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26/10/2015

Time to mix up the housing market again

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Starter homes alone won't solve the housing crisis by themselves, says Andrew Jones of AECOM - what's needed is a commitment from both public and private sectors to deliver a mixture of tenures for a balanced housing market

Andrew Jones of AECOMDavid Cameron’s recent announcement at the Conservative Party conference demonstrates the government’s commitment to tackling the housing challenge, with political rhetoric finally translating into action. The Starter Homes policy is an important part of the government’s answer to unblocking house building in the UK by removing the requirement for developers to provide affordable housing for rent. By declaring the Conservatives as the ‘party of home ownership in Britain today’, the Prime Minister has made a clear shift away from generation rent, redefining affordable housing to include homes to buy as well as rental properties.
 
While initiatives that encourage home building – particularly in the affordable housing sector – are welcome news, the push for home ownership must not come at the expense of rental options. The government’s move to encourage house buying could also severely challenge shared ownership schemes – arguably one of the most successful routes to affordable home ownership.
 
Over the past 100 years, home building has only ever hit the level needed through mixed market delivery and a balanced mix of tenures. The private sector alone simply cannot deliver on the scale required to solve the current housing crisis. A multi-tenure strategy that involves government support for ownership, shared-ownership, private rental and socially-supported rental is critical to increasing supply. An added dimension is the need to enable a new range of entrants into the market including small and medium-sized enterprises, public homes and individuals. Without such an approach, it is difficult to see how problems of affordability and access to the housing market will be solved.
 
After all, we are still experiencing a fundamental lack of supply in parts of the UK where demand is critical and future economic prospects are strong. Take London and the South East, where AECOM identified in our recent manifesto for the London City Region, Big, Bold, Global, Connected – London 2065, that the planning system is not keeping pace with population growth and calculated a shortfall of one million homes by 2036 unless new sites are found and building is accelerated.
 
The government’s recent proposals should encourage the delivery of homes on sites already identified for development, but there is also an urgent need to look at additional sites that have the potential to accommodate much larger schemes. A joined-up approach to housing is needed, with homes built in line with infrastructure investment and development. A clear programme that addresses transport, utilities and energy as well as homes would enable people to live close to employment opportunities and new communities to flourish.
 
Exactly what role the newly created National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) will play in planning large-scale housing delivery is yet uncertain. At present housing does not fall within its remit, which is surely a missed opportunity. My hope is that this evolves over time and housing’s key role in infrastructure development is recognised. After all, housing and infrastructure development are inextricably linked. Bold decisions are needed to meet the housing shortfall and restore balance in the housing market. Let’s not lose this opportunity.

Andrew Jones is practice leader – design, planning and economics, Europe, Middle East, Africa and India for AECOM

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