In rural areas, there is a particular need to protect existing affordable housing and increase stock in areas with high housing need. In these areas there is only 8% affordable housing stock, compared with 20% in urban areas.
Due to the scale of the housing crisis and the high profit margins associated with developing greenfield sites, there is increasing pressure to build large houses in the countryside at the peripheries of existing settlements, with less scope for affordable homes. Weak planning policy increasingly allows this to happen, even in areas that are meant to be protected from development, such as Green Belt.
The English housing market is currently dominated by a few large-scale developers. The business model of many of these developers is based around developing market housing on greenfield sites at a slow rate in order to maximise profit margins. It is clear that to solve the housing crisis, we need much more new building by other players such as small and medium-sized house builders, local authorities and individuals who want to build their own home.
We also need more sensitive design. We’re concerned that national housebuilders continue to rely on standard, off the shelf designs with little interest in local building styles or character. We are keen to find out more about both good and bad practice.
Policy measures can also be taken to facilitate development on brownfield sites, such as stronger funding structures for remediation.
Our research has shown that since the Government issued its reformed national planning policy in 2012, local authorities are either being pressured or are choosing to set inaccurate, inflated and unrealistic housing targets. This increases pressure for councils to release greenfield sites for development. We need better guidance to aid local authorities to set targets that better reflect what will actually be built, and to prioritise the building of affordable housing to meet the needs of local people who can’t buy on the open market.
Urban sprawl nibbling away
Everyone needs a place to live, but the way in which this is being done means that urban sprawl is nibbling away at the green spaces across England. Housebuilding covers more countryside than any other kind of development.
Successive governments have made new housebuilding a priority. Local councils are being offered financial incentives in return for permitting new developments.
Housebuilding means climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions, increased road traffic and congestion, more strain on water sources, and increased quarrying in the countryside. We are losing the tranquillity from green open spaces, fields and woodland – and the pressure to build more houses will only increase this.