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Missing the target?

Missing the target?

In February the Government launched its Housing White Paper with the promise of a consultation on the way housing targets are calculated. This was welcome news: there is currently no single agreed method of calculating required housing numbers, and the system sees councils struggling to meet unrealistically high targets. But in a speech this week, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid gave the worrying impression that things are about to become much worse. The minister’s stated preference for building more houses in high demand areas could lead to a loss of protected land without addressing genuine housing need. 

Over the past few years, we’ve had targets based on assessments which have served little purpose other than to get as high a housebuilding requirement as possible in high-demand areas where developers can make most profit. The system is loaded in developers’ favour through a number of factors: the confusion of market demand with social need, for example, the requirements on local authorities to build extra houses to meet market signals, and to cross-subsidise affordable housing developments through building more market housing. 

The developer-led Local Plans Expert Group commissioned by the last Government has recommended making these requirements much more onerous, which would require a 25% increase in housebuilding in places like Cambridge, West Dorset, and a number of districts in the Home Counties, including Windsor and Maidenhead. 

There’s no question that we urgently need to start building more homes. But increasing housebuilding alone will do nothing to address the housing crisis if the houses built are neither affordable nor located where they can meet genuine local need. The Government seems to be proposing that we can tackle issues of affordability by building in areas of high demand. Our research has shown that this just isn’t the case. 

We recently studied affordable housing in high-demand areas and found that many councils are already falling short of meeting their affordable housing targets. In 2011-12, 35% of new dwellings in shire districts and unitary authorities were affordable; in 2015-16, this had decreased to just 16%. We saw a pattern of developers reneging on their promises to provide affordable housing as part of a development. It isn’t clear how simply releasing more land for development can help solve this problem.

Our Green Belt Under Siege report, also released this week, provided further evidence that tackling the affordable housing crisis requires more than simply releasing more land for development. Of the 425,000 houses proposed to be built in the Green Belt, more than 70% are not expected to be affordable. And just 16% of houses built on Green Belt land since 2009 outside local plans were classed as ‘affordable’. 

On top of this, the Government's definition of affordable now includes starter homes - houses that can be sold at 80% of market value up to a maximum of £250,000 outside London, and 80% of market value up to a maximum of £450,000 in London.

England’s housing crisis is not due to a shortage of executive homes. It is due to a shortage of housing within the reach of young people and families: genuinely affordable and built in places where there is genuine local need. Solving the problem requires giving more funding and support to councils, self-builders and housing associations who want to provide much-needed quality affordable homes. Simply imposing higher housing targets is not enough.

England’s housing crisis is not due to a shortage of executive homes. It is due to a shortage of housing within the reach of young people and families.

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