Housing targets – a never-ending story

Guy Horne | HSPG
22nd June 2022
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Last month, former housing secretary Robert Jenrick criticised the government for lacking the ‘political will’ to increase the housing supply. His comments came following his successor Michael Gove’s statement that focussing on building targets alone was counterproductive and risked prioritising arbitrary numbers above sustainable and good quality housing which delivers for communities.

Michael Gove has since called the government’s target of 300,000 new homes delivered every year by the mid-2020s further into question, by admitting that the 244,000 homes built in 2019 constituted a 'high point', unlikely to be replicated.2 Instead, the Prime Minister’s housing speech in early June emphasised the need to build ‘more of the right homes in the right places’, while also helping young people and those on housing benefits into home ownership.

While attempts at working closer with communities and local authorities are undeniably laudable, turning away from the government’s building target presents a clear danger. Housing targets are not arbitrary figures, they reflect a real need. With supply has lagged behind demand for years, the UK’s housing crisis requires a confident and long-term approach in order to provide badly needed Affordable Housing on a large scale.

The scale of the problem

The UK government wrestling with its own promises concerning the housing crisis is not a new phenomenon. House building targets have been stumbling blocks for decades, causing governments led by both major parties to regularly fall short of annual deliveries.

2021 was no different, with recent figures suggesting the government fell short of its own target by 120,000 homes.4 Of course, the backdrop of a pandemic and worker and supply shortages will have played a large part in this disappointing figure, yet the demand for homes keeps growing, especially for social housing.

Amid a cost-of-living crisis and sky-rocketing household bills, the exponential rises in house prices has refused to slow, with March 2022 seeing the average house price reach a record high of £265,312, an increase of £33,000 in the past year alone.5 Over a million people are already on social housing waiting lists and many more will join them if current trends persist.

A long-term vision

As is evident, the chronic housing crisis requires comprehensive solutions, delivered quickly, but with an eye on the long term. With every year of increasing demand, the problem will be harder to address. Too often, housing policies fall victim to election cycles, cabinet reshuffles and changing governments, making it near impossible to deliver lasting and truly impactful policymaking.

The Housing Minister’s retreat from building targets is a further example of playing politics with an urgent crisis by downplaying the need to deliver on supply just as the government is falling short on its own targets. At the same time, planning reforms have been announced, scrapped and replaced too many times to provide any benefit or certainty to real estate and construction firms.

A comprehensive planning reform which removes some of the outdated and unnecessarily complex regulations would be an important step toward increasing construction activity across the country. Of course, this needs to take into account what communities require and how to ensure quality, attractive construction, but the two are not mutually exclusive.

With the government’s net-zero ambitions requiring urgent action, provisions to ensure new builds are sustainable and energy-efficient are a further important consideration. Once again, this need not come at the expense of quantity, as construction companies have developed innovative tech solutions to model energy usage. This also helps to address the global fuel crisis and supports the shift to renewables while lowering consumption of traditional energy sources.

Public/private partnerships have been proven to act efficiently and quickly while delivering housing where it is needed most and where it supports the community. Working closely with local authorities, we have seen first-hand how positive these partnerships can be and how they impact individuals and communities alike. An excellent example is HSPG’s transformation of a former William Hill retail space into Affordable Housing units. This project was completed in cooperation with Salford City Council and provides a case study in swift and effective retail to residential conversions.

Time is running out

The lethargy displayed by various governments in the last two decades has created a problem which will require a herculean effort to solve. But it’s not too late. If the government is prepared to truly work with local authorities, housing associations, construction firms and investors, it will recognise the immense potential already present in the sector.

Streamlining and modernising planning processes while focussing on social housing – which is needed most – would present the first step in tackling the crisis. Another step would be to reconcile concerns about quality and quantity, rather than pitting them against each other. We are determined to play our part – now it’s the government’s turn to show it is serious about housing.

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