New Statesman: How can we solve Britain's housing crisis?

Tony Gosling tony at
Sun Sep 22 19:51:01 BST 2013

 From 'across the political spectrum' says George 
Eaton but he may as well be an Eton boy himself 
as, like generations of landowning and banking 
feudal overlords he excludes the rights and interests of the landless here.
Little or no account either taken of 
environmental solutions such as Ecovillages or Low Impact development.
How about drive in allotments for travellers
They are non-people who don't exist schurely George....

How can we solve Britain's housing crisis?
Policymakers and experts from across the 
political spectrum each offer one suggestion.
By New Statesman Published 22 September 2013 12:47
George Eaton writes: As well as enduring the 
slowest economic recovery in more than 100 years, 
Britain is suffering from a severe housing 
crisis. Housebuilding is at its lowest level 
since the 1920s, with just 98,280 registered 
starts in 2012, down 11 per cent on the previous 
year and far short of the 230,000 new households that were formed.
Private rents have increased by 37 per cent in 
the past five years and are forecast to rise by a 
further 35 per cent over the next six years. As a 
result, as many as five million people rely on 
state aid to remain in their homes. The 
government spent £23.8bn on subsidising landlords 
through housing benefit last year, more than 20 
times as much as it spent on housebuilding.
Below, policymakers and experts from across the 
political spectrum [except the landless as usual] 
each offer one suggestion to help solve the crisis.

John Cridland, CBI director-general
Make stamp duty more progressive
Clearly there is no one silver bullet that will 
solve the UK’s housing crisis. But if there’s one 
measure that could make a real difference in the 
long-term I would urge ministers to change the 
current system of stamp duty, which skews the market.
Under the current system, stamp duty is charged 
at a certain percentage based on thresholds 
linked to the value of the property. It means 
someone buying a property worth £251,000 is 
landed with a stamp duty bill of £7,530, while 
the buyer of a home worth just £1,000 less only pays £2,500.
We want the government to introduce a more 
progressive system where buyers crossing one of 
the stamp duty thresholds would only pay the 
higher rate on the portion of the property that 
falls within the higher bracket. This would be 
fairer and simpler for homebuyers and end the 
current distortion in one fell swoop.
But there’s much more that needs to be done.
We’ve been falling woefully short of building the 
homes we need for years which is why the 
availability and affordability of housing has 
become one of the most pressing staff recruitment 
and retention issues facing business. 
Unsurprisingly, our most recent London member 
survey highlighted housing as one of the biggest 
drawbacks to doing business in the capital.
It is clear that there’s huge pent-up demand from 
first-time buyers to second-steppers trading up 
the property ladder and the Help to Buy 
initiative is a brave scheme to try to meet this 
demand. And there are early signs that the first 
stage is working – with 10,000 reservations for 
new build homes in the last four months. That’s 
helped lift consumer confidence by widening 
access to mortgages, getting orders onto 
developers’ books and boosting the construction industry.
The second stage of the scheme around mortgage 
guarantees will offer a critical lifeline to 
trapped second-steppers and underpin the early 
signs of confidence returning to the housing 
market. But there are some serious questions 
ministers need to answer – specifically how the 
government intends to exit the mortgage market 
without a knock-on drop in prices; how it will 
minimise the risk to taxpayers of having to stump 
up for defaults and at what fee mortgage lenders 
will pay for government guarantees.
Help to Buy is only part of the jigsaw. House 
prices will continue to rise unless we take 
urgent action to increase supply. We need to make 
sure local councils are taking a proactive 
approach to planning reform to avoid lengthy 
delays in getting homes built and look to 
increase the number of properties available for the private rental sector.

Roger Harding, head of policy, Shelter
Build new garden cities
Each year we are failing to build the homes we 
need just to keep up with demand and Shelter is 
seeing the direct consequences of this shortfall, 
with families priced out of home ownership, 
soaring rents and thwarted family aspirations. 
The scale of the challenge is such that we need 
enough homes to fill Hemel Hempstead, Letchworth, Milton Keynes and more.
So the solution in effect needs to be, let's 
build Hemel Hempstead, Letchworth and Milton 
Keynes. After all, according to recent 
comprehensive analysis, 90% of England is not 
built on, with green belt land accounting for 
only 13% of this undeveloped total.
There is no silver bullet for our housing crisis 
- successive governments' failure to build has 
put pay to that – but the solutions are out 
there. They just need to go far further than our 
current piecemeal plans and step away from 
pushing more money, Help to Buy-style, into the 
housing shortage; something which can only lead to dangerously rising prices.
We know there are initiatives that can turn the 
situation around; this crisis isn't unprecedented 
and low levels of building don’t have to be an 
inevitable consequence of the credit crunch. We 
tackled the slums and Blitz-induced post war 
crisis. France is currently managing to build 
three times the number of homes we are (with plans to hit five times).
So rather than tinkering around the edges, let’s 
have a housing policy combining the vision and 
scale of the New Towns with more modern 
aspirations. The Prime Minister backs them in 
principle, but not yet in substantive plans.
New Market Towns for the 21st Century would 
combine infrastructure, housing, environmental 
and employment powers in a development 
corporation that would fund the scheme by 
borrowing against future land value increases, 
not the public debt. They could use Dutch and 
German-type land powers to bring together 
suitable sites. They could bring in small 
builders and self builders to deliver quality 
homes alongside the big players. They could 
introduce a new programme of shared ownership 
homes to provide the squeezed middle with the stable home we know they crave.
Choosing exactly where they would go isn’t easy 
and, although better design would help, 
inevitably New Market Towns wouldn't please 
everyone and NIMBYism is a hurdle that would need 
to be overcome. But we have already seen the 
leadership this solution requires. The Olympic 
park was led by a single body with imagination as 
well as planning powers, financial autonomy and 
cross party political will, to deliver genuinely 
affordable homes in East London. Surely this is 
proof that new towns need not be confined to 
history, we can create new homes and communities that work in the 21st Century.

Jack Dromey, shadow housing minister
Make housebuilding a national priority
What one thing would change our housing system 
for the better? That was the question I was asked 
to answer when writing this article.
With the country in the midst of the biggest 
housing crisis in a generation and the number of 
homes we are building fewer than half those that 
we need, building more homes is the obvious 
answer. But that begs the next question, what one 
thing would I change about our housing system in order to build more homes?
There are a number of changes that can and should 
be made. Greater investment, public and private, 
is of course crucial. Reform of our land market, 
which acts as a barrier to expanding housing 
supply, is also essential. Increasing competition 
and the range of institutions that deliver new 
homes must also be a priority from revitalising 
the role of local government to build a new 
generation of council homes to increasing the 
output of small builders, custom-build and 
co-operative housing. A focus on building 
successful new communities, whether as part of 
urban regeneration or through new settlements is 
also fundamental. And the agenda must not just be 
about the number of homes we build but 
place-making and the building of high-quality, 
well designed and environmentally friendly mixed communities.
Which one would I choose to change our housing 
system for the better? On my desk lies a copy of 
the Labour Party’s Post-War Policy “Housing and 
Planning After the War.” It is a fascinating 
document which outlines the nature of the housing 
crisis and the need for a huge building programme 
to achieve the Labour Party’s policy of providing 
“every family with a home of a decent modern 
standard.” Aside from the need for a building 
programme, the document refers to a wide range of 
issues that the post-war Government would need to address.
But what is most striking is the final section 
entitled “Britain’s Task”, it says: "It must 
again be emphasised that the world as we 
visualise it after the war can only be gradually 
realised. Constant effort will be required to 
prevent its frustration by vested interests, but 
if a vigilant guard is maintained and we keep our 
objective clearly before us, with vision, energy 
and courage, its realisation will be achieved 
with ever-accelerating speed. Then, undoubtedly 
we shall have the satisfaction of knowing that we 
are playing our part towards the building of a New Britain."
Then, as now, the crucial thing needed to tackle 
the housing crisis is political will. The will to 
put fulfilling that basic human desire, that 
aspiration, for a decent home to buy or to rent 
at a price you can afford, providing a secure 
place to bring up a family, at the heart of our politics.
Then, as now, nobody should be in any doubt about 
the Labour Party’s determination to rebuild this 
country and give families a chance of a decent 
home for their children just like their parents did before them.
And in Ed Miliband, we have a leader with the 
vision, courage and crucially, the political 
will, to succeed. Ultimately it is about 
political will. With that and the fact that David 
Cameron has presided over the lowest level of new 
homes built in peacetime since the 1920s in mind, 
the one thing that would change our housing 
system for the better seems rather obvious. At 
the 2015 general election, housing, will once 
again be a great national priority for Labour.

David Skelton, director of Renewal, a new 
campaign group aiming to broaden the appeal of 
the Conservative Party to working class and ethnic minority voters.
Devolve planning powers to the cities
The shortage of housing represents one of the 
biggest problems facing our country. There are 
around 1.8 million people on the social housing 
waiting list and the average age of the first 
time buyer is now 37. The cost of housing now 
makes a significant contribution to the squeeze 
in living standards that has been hitting working 
people since 2005, with private rent increasing by 37% in five years.
Against this backdrop of a housing shortage, the 
last government failed to meet their housing 
targets and the recession has meant that the 
number of housing starts is well below what the 
country needs. The first decade of the century 
was the first time in 60 years that home ownership has fallen, from 68% to 63%.
It’s imperative that politicians address our 
housing shortage as a priority. Conservatives 
should position themselves squarely as the party 
of housebuilding, following in the footsteps of 
Noel Skelton and Anthony Eden’s vision of a 
property owning democracy, Harold Macmillan’s 
housebuilding programme and Margaret Thatcher’s 
right to buy. Becoming the party of housebuilding 
would give the party an optimistic message of 
spreading home ownership and ensuring a decent home for all.
Removing bureaucracy that prevents use of 
brownfield land, converting empty properties and 
allowing shops to empty business premises to be 
used for residential purposes will all help, but 
they’re not going to solve our housing crisis 
alone. That needs a more radical rethinking of 
our top-down planning laws, which continue to hold back housebuilding.
At the moment, housing goes where bureaucrats 
think people want to live rather than where 
people actually want to live. Government should 
be prepared to devolve power over planning to 
cities, so they can decide whether to be pioneers 
in adopting a more liberal approach to planning 
policy in order to build more homes and create more jobs.
Liberalising planning policy should include 
putting power in the hands of local people, 
including in deciding whether to build on the 
greenbelt. Whilst areas of outstanding natural 
beauty should, of course, be protected, some 
building on the greenbelt should be allowed, 
particularly in areas around cities, where there 
is local support and where the local community is adequately compensated
This will help ensure that development is both 
attractive and acceptable to local people, whilst 
also meaning that successful cities are able to 
grow and prosper and the housing shortage is 
tackled. This could be particularly powerful in 
helping Northern cities to prosper, following the 
example of Preston, which was one of the highest 
growth cities between 1998 and 2008 due to more 
liberal planning laws. If the South isn’t 
prepared to build more houses that also gives 
Northern cities a chance to expand and encourage 
more people to live and work there.
Changing planning laws aren’t going to get more 
houses built on their own. Government should act 
against the big business vested interests who are 
sitting on land with planning permission waiting 
for property prices to rise, so-called land 
banking. Providing a right to build, as is the 
case in much of Europe, where local people are 
encouraged to design their own homes for land 
that has already been granted could also help boost house building.
Housing is a vital challenge facing politicians. 
Tackling the housing shortage and spreading home 
ownership should be a real priority.

Lutfur Rahman, mayor of Tower Hamlets
Increase grant funding to local authorities
London’s dire housing crisis - the capital’s 
woeful lack of social housing coupled with 
grossly inflated prices in the private housing 
sector - calls for immediate and radical 
measures. But there is no doubt that Britain’s 
national housing crisis has been severely 
exacerbated by government policies driven 
partially by austerity. I would like to think 
that a future Labour government will make 
affordable housing one of their top priorities, 
but our situation is so serious we can’t afford 
the wait. We need this government to change its policies now.
The government, in the shape of Grant Shapps and 
George Osborne, is conspiring to make it 
difficult for authorities such as mine to build 
new homes – although that has not stopped us from 
straining every possible sinew to build the most 
of any authority in Britain. Yet the 4,000 new 
affordable homes we will have completed during my 
first term as Mayor only go part of the way to 
providing homes for the 22,000 people now on our housing waiting lists.
Grant funding has been massively reduced for new 
build of affordable housing. Grant rates have 
reduced from over £100000 per home to nearer 
£25000, per home compared to the investment in 
the National Affordable Housing Programme which 
ran from 2008 to 2011. With the average cost of 
building a new home at £140,000 the new grant 
provides less than 14% of the total cost. In 
inner London, with far more expensive build and 
land costs the price per new social home is 
around £200,000, making any available HCA (now 
operated in London by the GLA) grant a tiny 
contributor to the overall cost. This has 
resulted in a massive reduction in the number of 
social homes provided nationally.
Even more damagingly, to be able to access 
Government Homes and Community Agency (now 
operated in London by the GLA) grants for new 
house building, housing providers have to commit 
to charge tenants up to 80% of the private market 
rate, and many are choosing to do so. This is the 
new ‘affordable’ rent. Yet we know that on 
average the people in our borough, who need 
housing can only pay, at maximum, around 65% of 
market rents and on the very smallest homes.
My priority is to campaign and persuade ministers 
to re-consider their deeply damaging housing 
policies. If I could have my way I would 
immediately remove the condition that HCA and GLA 
grants can only be made if tenants pay up to 80% 
of the market rate, since so few can possibly do 
so. Moreover, simply returning to the pre-2010 
levels of grant per home would go a long way to 
solving our housing problems locally and 
nationally as well. But the question remains; is 
the Government really interested in providing 
housing that ordinary Londoners need?

Graeme Cooke, research director, IPPR
Switch spending from housing benefit to housebuilding
One big lesson from post-war housing policy is 
that we can’t rely solely on the private sector 
to build the homes we need. The era when 300,000 
plus new homes a year were regularly built, from 
the 1950s to the 1970s, was based on a 
partnership of public and private investment. A 
prominent reason for our current housing shortage 
is the collapse in public house building from the 
early 1980s, which reduced overall output and 
left the delivery of new homes dependent on a 
private house building sector which responds to 
market conditions not housing need.
This change was partly driven by Mrs Thatcher’s 
aversion to social housing. But also a policy 
decision, of profound consequence, to shift the 
balance of public spending from capital grants 
for building homes to cash benefits for 
subsidising rents. In principle, this could 
extend choice and mobility for households. And, 
in the short term, Housing Benefit meets 
immediate need. But as a strategy for housing 
policy, the cycle of falling capital investment 
and a rising benefit bill into which we are 
locked makes no sense (especially when 40 per 
cent of rent subsidy now goes to private landlords).
This problem has not emerged overnight, but 
fiscal constraint casts it in an urgent light. 
During the Labour years, rising public spending 
covered up the structural problem. But capital 
and benefit spending on housing are now both 
being cut. This exposes the perversity of public 
spending on housing, 95 per cent of which now 
goes through the benefit system. This is bad 
policy and bad politics. Therefore the priority 
should be advancing institutional reforms which 
connect decisions about the housing market and 
the benefit system – and create a mechanism to 
re-balance public expenditure overtime.
This shift won’t be unlocked in Whitehall given 
its blindness to the diversity of England ‘s many 
housing markets. Instead it requires the chronic 
and misguided centralisation of housing policy to 
be overcome. A new generation of city and council 
leaders, impatient to improve housing in their 
areas, find themselves in a policy and finance 
straightjacket. So the next spending review 
should mobilise their energy and leadership, 
through progressively greater control over public 
expenditure for housing, with the ability to 
strike the right balance between building homes and subsidising rents.
Alongside serious reform of our dysfunctional 
land market, this could offer a plausible route 
to improving affordability of housing for the 
majority and value for money for the taxpayer.

Mark Clare, Barratt Developments group chief executive
Double the land release target for house building
It’s an uncomfortable truth that the UK’s housing 
crisis is going to get worse before it gets 
better. It will affect every location and every 
tenure. Over the next two years or so, we can and 
will increase the number of homes we build by 
around 20% - as the mortgage market improves. We 
are buying more land and will be recruiting 
another 600 apprentices and graduates.
However, the yawning gap between demand and 
supply will continue to grow. We are already 
building homes on all the land where we have full 
and implementable planning permission, so we need 
to consider two issues to step up the number of 
homes. In the short term we have to speed up the 
planning process. Whilst the process is now a 
better one that is leading to a more constructive 
dialogue, it is still too slow. Even small, 
relatively uncontroversial sites can take well 
over a year to be fully approved. And it can be a lot slower than that.
But we also need to think about the longer term 
and how we make more land available for housing. 
Here, there is an urgent role for the public 
sector because it owns around one third of the 
land suitable for housing. The government has a 
target to release enough of its land for 100,000 
new homes. I believe that should be doubled. Some 
may say sell it off to the highest bidder. That 
is not the approach I would like to see. As the 
public sector owns the land, it should play a 
major part in specifying the way it should be 
used – the required economic and social outcomes. 
In short, the public sector should act like a 
progressive land owner interested in long term 
value as well as short term price.
There are great examples already in progress. 
Former collieries are now being regenerated into 
thriving new communities. Old hospital sites 
derelict for years, are now on the verge of 
providing new housing and new employment. Active 
partnership between the private and public sector 
to build more homes will also mean that the 
housing sector has to change. We have to show 
that good design, high environmental standards 
and a real focus on quality are an integral part of what we do.
We have to do more to establish a lasting legacy 
of economic and social benefit. We have to win 
the debate about new homes and that means better 
as well as more housing. Only then can we address 
the issue that while people see that there is a 
housing crisis, they just don’t support new housing in their community.

Owen Hatherley, author of A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain
Create a universal public housing system
The obvious solution to the housing crisis is 
universal public housing. Or, as it was called in 
the UK, 'council housing'. That is, housing owned 
and controlled by democratically-elected public 
bodies, rented out at regulated low rents to 
those who need it. The term 'council' is 
important here – built by a body you can vote in 
or out, that you can stand for election to, that 
your council taxes pay for. It isn't 'social' 
housing, controlled by charities or basically 
profit-oriented Housing Associations; it isn't 
'affordable' housing, where percentages of 
private speculative schemes are sold at a 
slightly subsidised price; and it isn't 
'co-operative housing', where small elective 
groups manage to get themselves better housing. 
In contrast to all of these, council housing is a 
democratic, public and universal service, as much 
as the National Health Service is, or rather was.
Council housing is also bigger – Parker-Morris 
space standards still apply – it is usually 
better planned, with more green space; and it is, 
of course, cheaper. It's staggering how we've 
been conned into treating it as a grim residuum, 
and the shoddiest, pokiest private housing in 
Europe as somehow superior. Although there are an 
estimated 5 million people on the council waiting 
list, it is regularly claimed that there is no 
'need' for it any more. It does not entail 
attaining a place on the property ladder. It will 
not make your children rich. It needs state 
subsidy – although so do many privately owned 
'regeneration' schemes, so does Help to Buy, and 
so do bail-outs for delinquent Building 
Societies. It is associated with system-built 
blocks from the late '60s, although council 
housing has encompassed – and should encompass – 
everything from the semis of Wythenshawe to the 
grandiose futurism of the Trellick Tower.
But 'council' ought to mean 'universal'. Newham 
Council currently plan to build Richard 
Rogers-designed houses that will then be sold at 
'affordable' (ie, 80% of market) rates; Labour 
councils are still dominated by dated neoliberal 
dogma. While London, Sheffield or Glasgow subject 
their estates to 'decanting' (or 'eviction', as 
it used to be called) the recent renovation of 
the Tour Bois-le-Petre in Paris entailed building 
new wings, making existing flats larger and 
retrofitting the entire block – without 
privatising or moving anyone out. This could be 
the future of council housing, but first we need 
a break both with austerity and New Labour inertia.

Alex Morton, head of housing, planning & urban policy, Policy Exchange
Transfer planning controls from Town Halls to local people
To get Britain building we need fundamental 
reform of our planning system. There are plenty 
of good ideas out there, (e.g. more custom-build, 
converting derelict shops to homes, to Garden 
Cities), but housing’s core problems are deep and structural.
Many people do not grasp that new homes are 
effectively rationed, like post-war bananas. Up 
and down the country, local council officials 
decide what land and how much land we should 
devote to homes, what type of new homes are 
necessary, and then impose it on local people. It 
is no exaggeration to say it is a system straight 
out of 1940s wartime economics. It simply does not work.
All other problems, once you work out what 
created them, relate to this basic dysfunction 
that makes NIMBYism sensible and reduces planning 
permissions. So developers land bank as they are 
worried about obtaining planning permission and 
they think land will go up in value. The rising 
social housing waiting list fell in Right To 
Buy’s heyday 1980-1997 as private housing was more affordable.
Our system is more inflexible than most other 
countries, and also has larger planning areas. 
Our 300 or so local planning authorities compare 
with thousands in places like Germany or France, 
meaning that decisions taken at a very remote 
level. Unlike most countries, there are limited 
benefits for communities that allow development. 
A planning system is necessary to protect our 
most beautiful areas from inappropriate 
development, and to let local people block unattractive housing.
But we need a system that does this without 
micro-managing everything, and gives a direct 
voice to local people on issues around quality 
and infrastructure. We need focused incentives 
for local development, clear quality control for 
local people, open public green space like parks 
and reserves if greenbelt is developed, and 
sensible brownfield redevelopment overseen by 
local people. Just 7% of England has been developed – we are not short of land.
Of course, a functioning planning system won’t 
solve everything overnight. But without doing it 
we will be constantly running just to stand 
still. Planning is a political issue masquerading 
as a technical one. Until we treat its resolution 
as a political issue where both those who want to 
build homes and local people must both be 
satisfied, forcing them to negotiate with each 
other, rather than imposing new homes on local 
people either from Town Halls or Whitehall, we 
will not solve the housing crisis.
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