A “bold radical vision” to “fix our broken housing market”?

07 Feb 2017

The government today published its much anticipated housing white paper, “Fixing our broken housing market”. The paper sets out the proposed approach to addressing imbalances in supply and demand in the housing market in England and was presented by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid.

Between 225,000 and 275,000 or more new homes are needed to keep up with population growth and to address years of under supply, says the government. Since the 1970s, around 160,000 new homes have been built in England each year.

There is much talk in the white paper of enhancing the capacity of local authorities and industry to build new homes. In return, the government is expecting professions and institutions to play their part and turn the suggested proposals into reality.

The government will make it easier for local authorities to take action against those who don’t build once permission has been granted. The government is also offering them higher planning application fees and new capacity funding to develop planning departments, simplified plan-making and more funding for infrastructure. Local authorities shall be expected to be innovative and develop plans with their communities that meet their housing needs.

Private developers are being offered a planning framework that’s more supportive of higher levels of development and streamlined processing and determination of planning applications. The government will also encourage greater diversity of homebuilders, by partnering with smaller and medium-sized builders in the Accelerated Construction programme. It will also help such builders access the loan finance they need. In return, the government expects developers to - among other things - build more homes and invest in their research and skills base to create more sustainable career paths and skilled roles.

Other details include:

  • Local communities are being offered a simpler and clearer planning process
  • Housing associations and other not-for-profit developers will be provided with clarity over future rent levels
  • Lenders, institutional investors and capital market participants are being offered a long-term framework for investment, including products for rent
  • Utility companies and infrastructure providers will see a clearer framework and simpler plans. In exchange they’re expected to deliver the needed infrastructure so that development is not delayed.

But it’s not all about house building. Under the ‘helping people now’ proposals, the government plans to make renting fairer for tenants and promote transparency and fairness for the growing number of leaseholders. It wants to improve neighbourhoods by cracking down on empty homes and supporting the areas most affected by second homes. And it proposes to prevent homelessness by supporting households at risk so they don’t reach crisis point.

Reaction to the white paper has been mixed. The Local Government Association’s Cllr Martin Tett, is pleased the report has taken on board a number of recommendations made in their recent housing commission final report. Others have criticised the plan for being vague and Grant Shapps, the Conservative former housing minister, told the Daily Politics show that the white paper would not make much difference.

While the proof of the pudding is in the eating, we shall see if the proof of the white paper is seen in the building.

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