By Rico Wojtulewicz, Head of Housing and Development Policy, ONF
As the Conservative leadership election nears the final two, solving the housing crisis has become an increasingly popular topic of discussion. Yet when candidates fix things and strengthen existing proposals, they should be challenged to put votes ahead of the national interest.
The welcome support of local design codes will bring much-needed certainty to the planning process, but the understanding of place-making appears to be lacking. Penny Mordaunt is right to take a more nuanced line and “champion a brownfield construction boom” to “build, not build”, rather than just “brownfields first”, but the obsession with brownfields creates a new problem, where are the jobs, the amenities, the services disappearing now that we’ve used the land they’re usually built on?
Building on brownfield-rich Bradford doesn’t help in brownfield-limited Barnstaple either.
Once we build brownfields, creating higher populations and removing land for which non-residential needs are used, people will have to move farther to newly built infrastructure outside their communities, on sites greens. This means that the infrastructure is still not functioning properly and any loss of greenfield is short term, perhaps limited to one political cycle. Practice that.
And this short-termism extends to other parts of the debate, such as criticism of central housing targets. Core goals and their shameless penalties for not achieving them exist because councils weren’t building enough and awarding undeliverable sites. Since their introduction, housing numbers have increased dramatically, which this government consistently champions as their success, planners have been able to justify their position against political party planning decisions, and small sites within communities have been given a more mechanism important.
Removing central targets and the housing delivery test (the policy that identified councils subject to sanctions) simply removes councils’ responsibility to meet housing demand and solid land allocations. If not, how can we ensure that the most unaffordable areas, such as the South East and London, where over forty per cent of councils fall short of their minimum housing targets, actually build enough housing?
An alternative development incentive has been offered, but historically this has failed. The “New Homes Bonus”, a grant given when councils build more houses is an example of this and councils have hardly discussed it. When an HBA member proposed a hoarding of the site identifying that their development would increase central government funding because of this bonus, his board asked them to drop the idea.
Not even the incentive to “build fine works”, as Price Charles discovered in Kent, where his proposal for a new Poundbury-style development was hotly opposed by locals. Small builders have made this point since the launch of the “Build Better, Build Beautiful” commission, because they have already built beautiful things, but only deliver a 9% market share.
Others continue to criticize the land bank, ignoring that this land is a pipeline and based on allocations made by councils. And to date politicians have completely ignored the fact that the councils are among the largest landowners in England and have great access to loans while building very few of their own homes. Aren’t they the real bankers?
So far, no candidate apart from Sajid Javid has shown an understanding of the housing crisis, what land banking is, or acknowledged the role of the planning process in the supply crisis and of the cost of living. When Robert Jenrick was Housing Secretary, uncomfortable conversations about solving this desperate situation took place, but since his ambition got him sacked, the Opposition, the Government and now the Conservative candidates for Prime Minister continue to prove that winning votes is far more important than solving a national crisis. of the wartime proportion.
It is therefore to be expected that the housing crisis and the accompanying cost of living crisis will persist.