Housebuilding is again at the top of the domestic political agenda. Not only is Theresa May’s government promising radical reform of the housing market but it has also set the ambitious target of building one million new homes by 2020.
The housing White Paper, due out in the next week or two, will reveal exactly how the Government plans to do this. The Government currently enjoys political capital and it must be prepared to use some if it’s serious about solving the housing crisis.
However, the recent Commons statement by Gavin Barwell regarding the weight to be given to Neighbourhood Plans does not bode well and reveals a lack of confidence. Barwell’s statement was made, not because the NPPF is failing but precisely because it is working and neighbourhoods with inadequate housing numbers don’t like it!
Both the Prime Minister and Sajid Javid, her Communities and Local Government Secretary, say they will help the so-called ‘just about managing’ voters by bringing down house prices, forcing councils to build more homes, increasing private rented space and converting more brownfield properties into housing.
Housebuilding has recovered a bit from its post-crash lows of 140,000 new homes. But there were still only about 165,000 new homes built between 2015 and 2016 - some way below the 250,000 new homes needed to match annual need.
That’s why Javid is right to say he doesn’t want just a few ‘tweaks’ to the housing market “here and there with a 1,000 or so new homes” but long-term structural reform. We’ll have to see what the White Paper says.
But does the government have any hope of pulling it off? It’s got two big obstacles to overcome; uncertainty around Brexit and, as always, Middle England gearing up for a NIMBY backlash. The Campaign to Protect Rural England is warning of a toxic fight if ministers force councils to raise their numbers.
So, what’s to be done? How can Javid push through his reforms? Here’s my five-point plan to help him: