Yesterday, Theresa May announced new initiatives to ease the UK’s housing crisis, but industry experts are questioning whether the measures go far enough.
The Prime Minister said that young people without family wealth are “right to be angry” at not being able to buy a home.
Announcing reforms to planning rules in England, May said that homeownership was largely unaffordable to those not backed by “the bank of mum and dad”. This disparity is entrenching social inequality and “exacerbating divisions between generations”, she added.
The Labour Party responded to May’s announcements, saying that she should be embarrassed by the “feeble” measures proposed.
The Shadow Housing Minister, John Healey, reacted: “This housing crisis is made in Downing Street. It’s time the Tories changed course, and backed Labour’s long-term plan to build the genuinely affordable homes.”
In her speech at the National Planning Conference, May said that the existing National Planning Policy Framework will be overhauled, pending a consultation, with up to 80 proposals first put forward last year being implemented.
The new, key measures are:
- 10% of homes on major sites should be available for affordable homeownership
- Builders should be more open about affordable housing commitments at the planning stage
- Councils will have to adopt a new nationwide standard showing housing need in their area
- Infrastructure needs to be considered at the pre-planning stage
- Councils must consider revoking planning permission after two years if building has not started
- Ancient woodland and aged trees will get specific protection
A separate review, due to be finished later this year, will look at creating a new automatic right for homeowners to extend upwards and to make it easier to develop agricultural land for housing.
Do Theresa May’s New Housing Measures Go Far Enough?
May said that the cost of housing, both for homeownership and rent, was reinforcing economic divisions and leading to growing social immobility, with public sector workers unable to take jobs in certain parts of the country.
She explained: “The result is a vicious circle from which most people can only escape with help from the bank of mum and dad.
“Talking to voters during last year’s election campaign, it was clear that many people, particularly younger people, are angry about this. Angry that, regardless of how hard they work, they won’t be able to buy a place of their own. Angry when they’re forced to hand more and more of their wages to a landlord to whom their home is simply a business asset.”
She added: “They’re right to be angry.”
Although the number of planning permissions being granted in England has risen since 2010, the Prime Minister said that this has not been matched by a corresponding rise in the number of homes being built.
She pointed the finger of blame partly at developers, who she said have a “perverse” financial incentive to hoard land once it has been approved for development, rather than actually build on it.
May also insisted that “tearing up” the green belt was not the answer to the UK’s housing crisis and that existing protections would be maintained, and, in some cases, strengthened.
Councils will only be able to amend green belt boundaries if they can prove that they have fully explored every other reasonable option for building the homes that their communities need.
The Local Government Association said that it was wrong to blame councils, as they were approving nine out of ten proposed developments, and yet more than 420,000 homes with permission were still waiting to be built.
Its Chair, Lord Porter, insisted: “No one can live in a planning permission.
“Developers need to get on with building affordable homes with the needed infrastructure, and councils need greater powers to act where housebuilding has stalled.”
The Institute for Economic Affairs, a free market think tank, said that the Prime Minister was only “tinkering at the edges” of what was needed to boost the supply of new homes, while the Joseph Rowntree Foundation claimed that the “speech overlooked entirely the role central Government must play… private developers and local authorities cannot do this alone”.
Housing charity Shelter said that May was right to close “loopholes” being used by developers to reduce affordable housing levels.
In her speech, the Prime Minister stated that homelessness was a “source of national shame” and that £1 billion was being spent to halve rough sleeping.
The Chief Executive of NAEA Propertymark (the National Association of Estate Agents), Mark Hayward, comments on the new measures: “Clearly we need more houses and we welcome these announcements from the Government, however, given the nature of housebuilding, we need to recognise that it will inevitably be a slow process before people feel that they have more homes available to them.
“Our monthly housing market report showed demand for housing boomed in January, creating competition among buyers and causing the number of sales to first time buyers to drop. It looks like those trying to get their first foot on the property ladder are in for tough year.”
Lindsay Judge, the Senior Policy Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, also responds: “The Prime Minister is absolutely right to identify housing as a core living standards concern for 21st century Britain. She is also right to call for change from local government, as well as from the housebuilding industry, to help address that challenge. But housebuilders are not the only people with a duty to build. The Government needs to have a far more direct role in housebuilding to hit its target of building 300,000 homes a year.
“On private renting, it’s time for action, not just discussion. Many households, including a growing number of families with children, will have to rent for years to come. Too many spend a significant amount of their income on rent, often in return for a poor quality home with a relatively short-term rental agreement. Making longer-term tenancies the norm would be a huge step in the right direction for those young people and low to middle income families who look set to rent for a large part, if not all, of their lives.”
Do you believe that May’s proposed new measures go far enough to tackle the country’s housing crisis?