The Chamberlain effect

Theresa May is a fan of the great Joseph Chamberlain, the statesman who transformed Birmingham in the late 19th century by “nationalising” competing gas and water companies, clearing slums, erecting great civic buildings and creating Haussmann-style vistas. His record on municipal housebuilding is patchy but nonetheless he believed in state intervention to fix failing markets, something that the new Conservative regime appears to be edging towards, at least in housing. Continue reading

The private sector will never build enough homes

It is universally acknowledged that the UK has a housing crisis. But the whole trajectory of Conservative thinking on housing and planning is towards home ownership and away from “affordable” housing built by councils and housing associations.

The government’s current housing plans propose spending £42.7bn on a raft of home ownership initiatives and only £2bn on social and affordable homes. This balance should be reversed – it is time to invest in social housing.

Pumping in money to increase demand without addressing structural supply issues is foolhardy. It simply pushes up prices and makes buying an ever more distant prospect for millions. Is it any surprise that home ownership is at its lowest level for 30 years? Continue reading

The divided social housing sector

The social housing sector is a bit like the Labour party – deeply divided, although not quite so nasty.

On the one side are the pragmatists, those prepared to go with the flow and do the government’s bidding, with its trajectory towards home ownership. Some in this group see a bright future in a more commercial environment, where they build homes for sale and private rent. A tiny few look forward to a future where they can break free from the shackles of state control and become fully private companies. Continue reading

The Wrong Pedal

According to Housing Minister Gavin Barwell the new Neighbourhood Planning Bill will “…help speed up delivery of the further new homes our country needs and ensure our foot is still firmly on the pedal.”

Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that the opposite is the case. Not only are Neighbourhood Plans tending to inhibit rather than promote development, they also favour well-heeled areas over poorer areas and have, in many cases, pre-empted and by-passed the Local Plan process.

Since their introduction in the Localism Act 2011 almost two thousand Neighbourhood Plans have been put in place across the country and there is no doubt that they have released an untapped enthusiasm for community engagement in the planning process. But a 2014 study by Turley planning consultants found that over half of published plans were designed solely to resist development, and that 73 percent were in areas with Conservative councils, and just 9 percent in Labour areas. Continue reading