The planning debate has reared its head again, and this time it’s personal. David Cameron is now calling on people to stop their ‘familiar cry’ of opposition to new housing so that he could end the ‘dithering’ and get homes built. Fraser Nelson called this ‘taking aim’ at NIMBYs, and we believe the Prime Minister was right to do so.
The principle of doing something to help the current generation who, even if they work and save hard, remain almost completely priced out of the housing market often gets nodding agreement. Yet when it comes to the solution – building more affordable homes – Shelter’s research shows that it’s overwhelmingly the wealthiest and most housing-advantaged who are most likely to actively oppose development. Further research shows 61 per cent of people believe more affordable homes are needed, but only 39 per cent support more homes in their local area. This uncomfortable truth needs to be told and the Prime Minister should be applauded for doing so. If we want to ensure that this generation and the next aren’t completely priced out of a home of their own, we need to build. And with our cities growing, this will have to include some building on green field sites.
Unfortunately, further relaxation of the planning system won’t change the fact that our housing market is deeply dysfunctional and will never be able to deliver the homes Britain needs. Recent research by FTI Consulting makes clear that planning reform without structural reform will not address this fundamental problem. And as is frequently pointed out, large developers are already sitting on land with planning permission to build hundreds of thousands of homes.
What’s also needed are moves to promote greater competition in the house building industry by helping new entrants into the market and, in the short-term, to provide developers with access to more long-term finance to take away some of the risk in getting homes built. Suggestions that the government will provide £10 billion of guarantees to both private developers and housing associations in this Thursday’s announcement should be welcomed.
And if there is to be further reform of planning regulation, it vital that it provides the clarity and consistency that local authorities, developers and residents need to actually get homes built.
Tomorrow’s announcement provides a huge opportunity for this government. Economically the evidence is clear: every home built creates jobs and boosts growth. Fraser Nelson’s comparisons with Ireland and Spain don’t stack up. To hit the Irish boom levels we’d need to build 1.3 million homes a year. Here we’re talking about an agreed need for 240,000 a year just to meet demand, while last year we built less than half this figure.
Building is on its knees, and we need urgent and bold action. This not only helps the economy, but the millions of ordinary people struggling to access a secure and affordable home.
Toby Lloyd is head of policy at Shelter.