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Government needs a ‘comprehensive strategy’ to achieve housing targets

Words: Laura Edgar
homes with parking

The government needs to develop a more “comprehensive strategy” if it is to achieve its house building targets, and it must go beyond home ownership, according to UK housing industry professionals.

The strategy needs to recognise that housing to rent has a “very important” part to play in driving housing supply, “supporting a functioning economy and increasing affordability and choice”.

The call for a strategy comes from the UK housing industry professionals who were part of the Lyon’s Housing Commission, which was commissioned by then-Labour leader Ed Miliband in 2013. Members also lay out their recommendations to the government, (see below).

Its review advised a future government on how it might bring about a sustainable increase in house building in England. It was chaired by Sir Michael Lyons.

The Lyons Housing Review identified that not enough land is released for new homes, communities don’t have the tools to provide the homes they need, and that new homes need to come with the required infrastructure and that housing must be a priority to investment for the next government.

In January 2016, the National House Building Council released figures showed that 156,140 homes were registered to be built in 2015 while official building statistics indicate that 155,000 homes were built in 2014-15.

These figures are below the number of houses to be built a year recommended in the Lyons Housing Review, which was 200,000 and 100,000 below the government’s target of 250,000 a year.

Compiled independently of the Labour Party, the February 2016 update report by the Lyon’s Housing Commission was written after members of the original commission reconvened to respond to the government's target of creating one million homes by 2020 – and whether its initiatives were enough to reach that target.

The report concludes that although it is “right” that more can and should be done to help more people own their own home, home ownership is neither an option nor the preferred choice for some people.

The report says there is a “drastic need” for more subsidised affordable housing alongside additional homes for private rent.

“An effective strategy also needs to maximise the opportunities to release untapped capacity for a wider range of organisations to build, commission and invest in housing.”

Chair of the commission, Sir Michael Lyons, said: “The government’s bold commitment to build one million homes by 2020 is to be welcomed, but it won’t be achieved by focusing solely on homes for sale. It’s like leading an orchestra made up only of the strings section.

“You cannot lead a housing crusade unless you are willing to draw in the contribution of all your allies: the volume builders really committed to growth; the small builders who have stopped building homes; the investors who want to build high quality homes to rent; the local authorities struggling to meet housing need and with the political will to do more; and the housing associations now spending their time worrying about lost rent income rather than planning to build more.”

The commission’s key recommendations to the government are:

  1. Broaden the housing strategy beyond the focus on home ownership to increase supply of both market and affordable homes for rent to secure sustainable growth in housing supply and lasting capacity in the house building supply chain.

  2. Take a more ambitious approach to direct commissioning to deliver high quality and increase output and capacity through capturing land value to fund infrastructure, attracting a more diverse range of partners into house building and building a mix of homes for sale and rent.

  3. Work more closely with the industry in developing the model for starter homes to ensure an overall increase in homes and that the public subsidy of these homes exists in perpetuity to benefit future generations of house buyers and does not result in a reduction of affordable homes to rent.

  4. Clearly acknowledge the importance of the contribution that local authorities and housing associations have to make to tackling the housing supply crisis; ensure local authorities have the flexibilities and support needed to promote, finance and commission new homes; and give housing associations the certainty they need to plan long term.

  5. Ensure that government policies place greater emphasis on championing the highest quality of design and environmental standards for new homes and the places in which they are built.

Julia Evans, chief executive of BSRIA, said the consultancy and research organisation welcomed the “timely” and “important” review.

She said volume builders, small builders and investors who want to build high-quality homes to rent, and local authorities “anxious” to meet housing needs and housing associations concerned with lost rental income need to “align”.

“The consistent message from BSRIA is that how is any building or construction going to be built when there is a severe skills shortage in terms of both quantity and quality in the industry?

“In essence, economic growth – for both the UK and the industry – is imperative. The confidence to invest in major house building projects is key to unlocking housing growth.”

Mike Kiely, Planning Officers Society chairman, said “no single approach” will work. History suggests that it is only “where we have brought all our resources to bear on this problem that we have been effective”.

“It is time to do that again and the recommendations are a good blueprint.”

The update report can be downloaded here (pdf).

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