Housing White Paper: if the market is broken, is this the fix?

After the May Government’s first major housing policy proposals are published, Freshwater’s Public Affairs team takes a look at the government’s housing white paper, ‘Fixing our broken housing market’

The government has been very clear that they want to grasp the nettle of housing supply and increasing prices. Last year’s autumn statement promised us a “comprehensive package of reform”, and the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, said at the Smart Cities conference that he would introduce “radical measures to really boost the supply of homes”.

Theresa May, in her introduction to the government’s new housing white paper, said the country needs a “comprehensive approach that tackles failure at every point in the system”. It is therefore a shame that that rhetorical intent is not fully reflected in black and white on its pages.

Published on 7 February, the White Paper undoubtedly includes some welcome measures. Where some councils have been conservatively assessing their housing needs in order to placate residents, they will no longer be able to do so with the introduction of a standardised approach to measuring housing need. Beyond this, councils will be given tools to prod developers into building out sites with permission more quickly – responding to concerns that some are land banking. Recognising that many councils’ planning departments are unprepared for the large applications needed, the paper also proposes an increase in planning fees, and ring-fences the money.

However this isn’t really enough. When, as recently concluded by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Select Committee, we need 300,000 new homes each year, plans to speed up the granting of current permissions or to facilitate additional storeys on existing homes don’t address the scale of the problem in any comprehensive way.

The paper hints at what could have been, offering £25m of new funding for ‘ambitious’ authorities with high housing need and encouraging the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders when developers aren’t playing by the rules, but those expecting the ambition of the proposals to live up to the expectations raised over months of heavy trailing will be disappointed. Without a bold policy which recognises that - no matter how much densification, brownfield re-purposing and speedy building is realised, in order to produce the number of new homes required we need more land available for development - this paper was never going to be what it promised.

The most politically radical large-scale solution to control spiralling urban property prices is to build on the Green Belt. However, rumours of a Green Belt attack turned out to be just that - on the contrary, the paper includes a renewed commitment to its protection. And although the government talks about opening up the market to more developers, there are no provisions to help councils themselves build, cutting off what could have been a faster source of new, varied homes.

Ultimately, if the bill to be brought forward reflects this housing paper then it is difficult to see how it will bring about the “radical, lasting reform that will get more homes built right now” that the government wants.

The government’s consultation on its proposals is now open and closes on 2 May.

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Impact Report 2017

Impact report 2017