Article

Leadership is still missing to implement housing change
Claire Porter, in 24 Housing, 10 February, 2017

If solving the housing crisis was a simple case of fixing legislation or introducing incentives for builders, the housing crisis would have been fixed ages ago, or never reached this magnitude at all.

There are numerous incentives as well as legislative options in the Housing White Paper.

Many of these are to be welcomed – enabling councils to reduce land banking by reclaiming land that has not been built on; support for SME builders to end the dominance of larger builders who prioritise larger sites; and key is the acknowledgement that solving the crisis is the responsibility of both central and local government, as well as housebuilders.

However the key ingredient is still missing – strong leadership from both national and local politicians.

We all know that building enough housing for everyone to have a decent quality home will lower demand, and therefore lower house prices – this is basic economics.

But barely anyone in political leadership will admit to this explicitly. We need politicians to be really honest with people who are lucky enough to own their own home, and to tell people that they may well have to take a financial hit to allow struggling families and young people to live in a decent home.

We also need leaders to be better at acknowledging this isn’t just about building new homes – there needs to be infrastructure around this that is expensive to deliver, and cannot be solved by individual councils.

Roads and public transport need to be able to cope with additional people in new areas, as do services such as schools and hospitals. With a growing health and social care crisis, councils across wider areas will need to coordinate to ensure that services are provided, regardless of where new housing is built.

Delivering this housing and infrastructure will be labour intensive for local authorities – particularly planning departments. Planning teams have seen catastrophic cuts in recent years, which is already putting pressure on delivery.

These additional powers as well as pressure to deliver high volume housing very quickly will require significant investment in planning resources to support the delivery.

But building homes is about building more than four square walls. We need our highly skilled planning teams to ensure they convene high quality places, with access to includes green space, good design, decent space standards, sufficient infrastructure as well as culture.

Building good places is far harder to object to – it brings benefits to current residents as well as new ones. But doing this properly needs planning resources and strong vocal support from local leadership.

There is a natural conflict between those who oppose development, and those who need it most, and local politicians are often caught in the middle.

However, in order to provide the millions of houses that are needed and prevent this crisis from deepening, we need strong leaders to step up and build the homes that we need.