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How diversification could help to solve the UK housing crisis

Housing / Shutterstock_209608081

A variety of housing types, tensures and designs are needed if we are to solve the housing crisis, says Martin Herbert.

By now, a clear consensus persists on the importance of diverse housing to address different community needs. But we must remember that housing diversification needs to expand beyond the scope of affordability if we’re going to create truly healthy, inclusive and safe spaces.

Although it’s good to see the NPPF calling for at least 10 per cent of homes in major development sites to be available for affordable home ownership, housing must also cater to many other groups: Build to Rent, the elderly, students, self-build, and so on. While it is a bit hackneyed to say it, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.

Varying types, tenures and designs of homes are needed to meet these groups’ needs in new towns and extensions. The government’s independent review of housing build-out rates, led by Sir Oliver Letwin, confirmed as much, finding that varied housing on large sites would increase market absorption rates of new homes.

The main challenge is that there is no definitive mechanism in policy for delivering these needs outside of affordable housing. There’s good reason for this given justifiable opposition from developers to overly prescriptive requirements that may stifle viability and build-out rates. And because developers and local authorities often disagree over the calculation of a viable percentage of affordable housing, strict requirements for varying proportions of housing would only exacerbate friction, especially on large sites part of decades-long programmes.

The MHCLG is likely to issue more planning guidance on diversification so large sites can support a wide range of homes and faster build-out. For the reasons above, however, we shouldn’t expect more than a general call for diverse housing.

“Taking small steps towards this goal is preferable to an overly prescriptive approach”

That diversification is on the government’s agenda at all deserves applause because of its potential to speed up build-out on big sites. The Letwin Review notes the likely added benefit of improving design quality and creating more attractive places.

Taking small steps towards this goal is preferable to an overly prescriptive approach that could present a minefield of practical complications. It is hard to predict what the detailed mix of thousands of homes will look like in a development of over 10 years. Disagreements between councils and developers over flexibility versus fixing day-one details would hamper efforts to deliver vital housing to the government’s ambitious timescales.

There is a great eagerness to ensure that developments are meeting every group’s needs, but it must be tempered by the need to overcome delays to delivery. 

Martin Herbert is director, planning, for WYG

Image credit | Shutterstock


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