There will be much to welcome in this month’s Housing White Paper. We expect a big emphasis on brownfield development and more support to enable local authority planning departments to do their job. Best of all, the White Paper looks set to address the main cause of the housing shortage: over-dependence on a small number of big companies to deliver the new homes the country needs.
For too long the state’s responsibility for decent housing has been outsourced to private developers who have neither the will nor capacity to build on the scale needed. Now at last Ministers seem willing to tackle this market failure, for instance by helping small builders and promoting custom build and ‘modern methods of construction’.
No quick fix
But we should not expect to see any quick increase in output. The Government is stuck with a policy of setting housing targets and making more land available in the hope that developers increase their output. This approach has failed for years and it will continue to fail. Under the current system, councils are pressured to set unachievably high housing targets and to demonstrate that they have a five-year supply of land to meet them.
Targets are missed because developers do not use the planning permissions they have; the local authority has to release more land; developers cherry pick the best sites, often in the Green Belt or other countryside, but build so slowly that the local authority is unable to demonstrate that it has a five year land supply; this then leaves the door open for predatory firms to put in speculative applications in the countryside on the grounds that the council does not have a valid plan in place.