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Government to commission 10,000 affordable homes: Reaction

Words: Laura Edgar
New houses / iStock

Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that the government will “step in” and directly commission new affordable homes on publicly owned land. He said the move would lead to “quality homes” built at a faster rate with up to 40 per cent designated as affordable starter homes. Reaction to the announcement has been collated here.

Question over role of remainder of public estate in solving housing crisis


The RTPI welcomed the announcement.

Speaking to The Planner, Richard Blyth, head of policy, highlighted that the institute has previously called (pdf) for government departments and agencies to dispose of their surplus public land “in a way which takes account of the wider community value rather than just maximising sale price”.

However, Blyth said the announcement raises questions “regarding the role of the remainder of the public estate in solving the housing crisis”.

“The government should also consider the range of housing size and tenure currently required to meet the need identified in strategic assessments carried out for local authorities in their areas.”

Increasing developable land with planning permission is “essential”


Stewart Baseley, chief executive of the Home Builders Federation, said allowing smaller builders access to pubicly owned land is welcome, but it must be part of a “wider set of measures to assist small and medium-sized builders and get more players on the pitch”.

Baseley continued: “Increasing the amount of developable land with planning permission is essential if we are to increase output further. Bringing forward public land more quickly has long been a priority for successive governments, so concrete measures to achieve this are welcome.”

Direct commissioning, he said, would only be successful if it speeds up the release of public sector land and “results in more house building than would have happened using the more traditional methods of public sector land disposal”.

Land must be broken down into small and micro-plots


The availability of small sites is the greatest barrier that small and medium-sized house builders currently face when delivering new homes, which is why the announcement is welcome, said Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders.

“Directly funding developments on publicly owned land, with planning permission already granted, should encourage growth of smaller builders and new entrants into the market,” he said.

But Berry said the public land that is being made available through direct commissioning “must be broken down into small and micro-plots wherever possible”.

“If the government wants to truly tap into the potential of SME house builders, it should bring forward a wide range of packages of land, including those attractive to the smallest of developers, thereby improving both capacity and speed of delivery.”

Berry concluded that the measure “remains only one piece of the jigsaw”.

“The ongoing skills shortage is as pertinent for local firms as it is for larger contractors. We desperately need more skilled trades people in the industry, otherwise even supportive plans such as this will be challenging for builders to deliver. Boosting apprenticeship training among construction SMEs will be crucial to this.”

Such schemes usually require an overseeing masterplanner


Although opening up the market to new entrants and smaller house builders is a positive move, this market segment has “contracted and been absorbed into larger players, so some support will be necessary so that smaller house builders develop the capacity to deliver quickly and in line with demand, and that appropriate controls are applied to ensure quality of product,” according to Andrew Jones, practice leader – design, planning and economics, AECOM, a management services provider.

Public land sites are often complex and require decontamination, flood alleviation, or major infrastructure upgrades to bring them forward as part of existing or new communities, he said.

Therefore, “these schemes typically require an overseeing masterplanner, such as a public agency or a development company. Small house builders are unlikely to be able to bring forward these types of sites independently, as the required infrastructure investment is likely to be unaffordable for them. As a result schemes could emerge in an unplanned manner, which would ultimately slow delivery or reduce the quality of the proposed community development – the very opposite of the government’s intention”.

Jones suggests the solution to addressing the housing shortage quickly and sustainably lies beyond building just for home ownership.

Smaller players, local authorities, housing associations for social housing, and shared ownership and institutional investors for a diverse private rental sector are the players that are “perhaps better able to try out innovative approaches such as self-build, custom-build and manufactured homes”.

“Overall, while today’s announcement is welcome, tackling small-scale developments and brownfield sites risks tinkering at the edges of the housing crisis. The focus must remain on large-scale developments that are supported by high-quality transport and social infrastructure.”

More inclusive housing mix required


Kate Henderson, chief executive at the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) told The Planner that it is positive to see the government getting back into the business of building homes. “We support the direct involvement in commissioning housing, but we would also like to see some locally led approaches for building affordable homes.”

Henderson highlighted that “it is not clear” how the government will deliver the homes. While the regeneration of Old Oak Common will be delivered by the Mayoral development corporation Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation and so has a clear structure, the other pilots do not have that kind of structure.

“It is good to see support for SMEs and diversity in the housing market is to be welcomed but today’s announcement and the Autumn Statement, focused on home ownership. “The TCPA think a more inclusive housing mix is required, such as housing for rent for those who need that kind of support."

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