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Tackling the UK’s housing crisis 'number one priority' facing built environment – Andy Burnham MP

Anastasia Zawierucha | Chartered Institute of Building

4 min read Partner content

Andy Burnham MP, Clive Betts MP and Roberta Blackman Woods MP shared their perspectives on the key housing and planning challenges the UK currently faces at a Labour conference fringe event, hosted by CIOB, RIBA and RICS.

Tackling the UK’s housing crisis is the number one priority facing built environment professionals Andy Burnham said yesterday at Labour Conference.

Labour’s candidate for first elected Mayor of Greater Manchester said that despite tremendous regeneration – much of which he contributed to the hosting organisations – much of the north of England still remains underdeveloped.

“If you want to understand the EU referendum result, you need to understand the sense of abandonment and neglect felt by these communities.”

The mayoral candidate said if he was to become Mayor he would refocus the £300m Greater Manchester Housing fund to the outlying towns and to bring council and social housing into the town centres. He also said he would push for affordable housing not to come at the cost of architectural integrity – and he would be turning to professional bodies to achieve these goals.

Clive Betts MP echoed Mr Burnham’s comments on professional bodies and said the CLG select committee that he chairs can work in closer collaboration with these institutions.

Beyond acting as expert witnesses, he urged professional bodies to offer briefings to the committee as well as help them set the agenda by suggesting subjects of inquiries important to the built environment sector.  

Paul Nash, CIOB president, said professional bodies also play an essential role of driving up standards and tackling unethical behaviour, creating a sense of trust essential to a functioning economy.

The MPs expressed much frustration with the current government’s housing policies, accusing them of being misguided and ill informed.

Clive Betts blasted the Government’s ‘Right to Buy’ policy as financially unworkable.

“[The CLG select] committee has a majority of Conservatives on it, and when looking at the policy we actually said the financial model is extremely questionable….primarily, because we haven’t actually seen it yet!”

He also accused the policy of exacerbating the affordable housing issues in the country, by replacing affordable council homes with smaller market value properties.

Roberta Blackman Woods MP said in her experience many Conservative MPs were completely unaware of the detrimental effects of the policy.

“It is interesting how all the Conservatives on the housing and planning committee thought there was large amounts of money going into supporting social and public housing, and when we tried to tell them there wasn’t they didn’t believe us!”

The former shadow housing minister went on to say that the UK must stop relying on the private sector, which has only ever had the capacity to build half of the homes we need.

“Our biggest challenge is getting resources into other modes of delivery of housing beyond the private sector and starter homes,” she remarked.

Top of her priorities were direct support to councils housing, safe guarding land for SME builders, and addressing the underlining planning issues.

“I cannot understand how the Government thinks that planners are the blockers since we have so many more planning permissions than homes being built.”

“[Planning departments] are re-envisioning our areas but they are so under-resourced they are overwhelmed,” said the president of RIBA Jane Duncan, and called for politicians to use devolution is an opportunity to channel resources into planning.

Clive Betts said answers need to be found to address house building capacity and helping smaller builders contribute to closing the gap. He also said that the Government must ‘put teeth’ in the planning system, allowing them to remove planning permission if builders don’t build.

President of the Chartered Institute of Building, Paul Nash, said this year the UK’s productivity gap widened to its worst level since these records began, and it will only improve if the stability of demand is addressed.

"Construction can be a motor for social mobility, and it will need to be if we are going to tackle the housing crisis and deliver major construction and infrastructure projects that benefit wider communities. But collaboration must happen if we are to improve the image of the sector and change perceptions about it being a low skilled, low paid and a typically unappealing industry to work in."

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