Wouldn’t it be nice if we were bolder?
Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long
And wouldn’t it be nice to live together
In the kind of house in which we want?
I’m afraid my reading of the White Paper immediately threw me back 50 years to 1966 when the Beach Boys reigned over the airwaves and Harold Wilson’s Labour Government was in power. This was a period of drastic housing policy change, seeing a relative boom in construction and a wave of New Towns such as Milton Keynes.
The White Paper seems to be sending us in the direction of the 1960s, unfortunately though, only in the sense of capturing the ethos of the Beach Boys – “Wouldn’t it be nice”. Now, such feel good tunes are great for pop stars, but our government has a real responsibility for tackling the housing crisis. Indeed, they fought two elections on the issue. Custom and self build housing have a real role to play in this, broadening the supply of housing, placing the customer at the heart of the design process, and providing new avenues to home ownership.
The last two governments have done excellent work in laying the foundation for a custom build revolution, bringing this exciting and achievable method of housebuilding out of the fringes and giving it a place on the main stage. We have seen the custom and self build housing act bring about a requirement for local councils to keep a register of demand in their area, and for this to be addressed when taking key decisions. Cherwell Council in Oxfordshire, seizing the initiative and seeing its benefits, have driven forward a custom build scheme at a former military depot near Bicester. The result: nearly 3,000 people have registered a demand in that area – 6 times higher than the next highest area. The demand clearly exists.
But not all councils are as capable of driving forward public sector acquisitions, especially when other hands of government take resourcing away from councils. There is therefore a need for stronger direction from government to make the market deliver this; as the White Paper clearly states, the main barriers to custom build are finance and land. The incentives offered over the last several years in terms of CIL exemptions and positive messages of support have helped a handful of smaller sites come forward, but we are now ready to take the next step and think bigger.
In December last year, we attended the Right to Build Expo hosted by NaCSBA. We argued that simply relying on smaller custom build sites to come forward would only deliver on average three custom and self build homes per council a year; hardly the boom in this industry government expects.
We need to think bigger and we need to make the land available. We need national government to strengthen national policies to give Councils the confidence they can allocate privately owned land for custom build, that they can defend these policies, and they can expect planning applications to genuinely respond to this.
I’m afraid the White Paper lacks teeth in this regard. There is no proposition for how to unlock land at the scale we need for custom build to take off; just a series of ‘promote’, ‘support’ and ‘working with’ aspirations. If the government is dedicated to pumping out feel good lyrics, perhaps we should be turning to the likes of One Direction to create a definitive policy direction on housing?
“Maybe if we think, and wish, and hope, and pray, it might come true
Baby, then there wouldn’t be a single thing we couldn’t do…”