Housing crisis

Simply building more new homes is not the panacea for the housing crisis facing Britain

Monday 07 November 2022 06:15

Michael Gove renewed his pledge to build 300,000 new homes (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

A few weeks ago the reverse ferrets were coming fast and although the pace has slowed somewhat under the new PM, changes are still afoot as new government ministers get their feet under the table and tackle to the work to be done. One of the last question marks is the abandonment of the objective of 300,000 homes for scrapping. I know, it’s confusing.

As prime minister, Liz Truss was far from happy with what she called “Stalinist” housing goals. But now Michael Gove has re-committed himself to the target. Are we all following?

Now I know there is a housing shortage in this country. But, and bear with me here, abandoning the target wasn’t a bad thing. Obviously, we have a problem in this country and we need a plan to solve it, but goals without a proper strategy won’t get us to the right end result.

Putting big targets and promises on housing construction could be a vote winner (although I suspect the housing minister’s turmoil of the last decade has left plenty of doubts about the promises), but the target is too narrow. And stubborn focus only on the target will simply leave other holes in the system.

We don’t just need lots of new homes on greenfield sites aimed at first-time buyers, it’s a blind focus that ignores the big picture. These houses, and houses for families, already exist. They are simply occupied by the wrong people; those who would like to move and cannot find suitable accommodation to move into. Free up all those houses and you bring the much-needed fluidity to the market.

A recent report by BNP Paris Real Estate focused on the shortage of senior housing – nearly half a million is needed to make up for the lack of supply as it stands. And that’s not taking into account the projected 31% increase in over-65s over the next 15 years. Our aging population is growing, but the current housing stock, or even the government’s plans for future housing stock, take no account of this changing population. Which is frankly amazing.

A focus and commitment to specialty housing would meet growing demand and flood the market with hundreds of thousands of larger homes for families, which in turn would free up properties for first-time buyers. A positive point for the whole market.

It may at first seem like it’s just shifting the focus, but that’s not the whole story. There are multiple benefits in favoring specialized housing for seniors, with care and equipment favoring well-being included in the offer. It frees up homes. This relieves pressure on the NHS and social care systems. And most importantly, in a time of financial hardship, it doesn’t need Treasury money to happen. Reforms to planning laws to speed up the construction of these retirement communities would do more to drive chains than anything coming out of the treasury coffers.

Our current political environment makes it nearly impossible to keep abreast of policies that will be launched, officially proposed and, heaven forbid, actually implemented. All I can ask is that the powers that be are considering at least a victory where there is one. Simply building more than one type of house, even if it hits the 300,000 goal, which let’s be clear is unlikely, will not solve our housing stock challenges.

And, if anything, that could mean that at least a U-turn doesn’t make us dizzy.