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Huw Morris on the housing demand debate

When Harold Macmillan was appointed housing minister in 1951, he faced the enormous task of rebuilding the country after the ravages of World War Two. 
A total of 300,000 homes a year was needed, and Winston Churchill told him “it’s a gamble, but it will make or mar your political career”. Working tirelessly with Labour and Tory local authorities alike on an enormous public and private building house building programme, he hit the target a year early.
If only he was around today. More than 60 years later, today’s politicians are struggling to get anywhere near half that figure.
As Macmillan once said, consultation is telling the other side what you’re going to do. Labour leader Ed Miliband is the latest to set out his stall, pledging 200,000 homes a year. But observers will note his predecessor Gordon Brown made a similarly bold promise only for that to turn to dust.
This inaugural edition of The Planner shows that the country is still some way off the 220,000 new homes a year it needs, never mind the 245,000 figure suggested in some quarters. This is not the medium to debate which policies could spur such a building rush. However let’s look into the crystal ball and suggest a few scenarios.

"As Macmillan once said, consultation is telling the other side what you're going to do"

When the country continues to get nowhere near meeting housing demand, how long will it be before whichever government takes the easy road of listening to vested interests and bonkers think-tanks before it blatantly blames planners and the planning system? How long before another new planning minister comes on the scene with yet another round of reforms?
You don’t have to be Mystic Meg to come up with this. The signs are already here. Councils and developers accuse each other of being too tough with permissions or slow to build. Even where the relationships are more cordial, there are now complaints by developers that planning departments have been cut to the bone and this is starting to hamper their handling of applications. 
Does all this sound familiar? Well, just look back over the past 15 years at how planning has played out in Whitehall. We’re not saying goodbye to all that, but hello again.


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