Government must do more to address housebuilding obstacles or miss target
Too many people currently live in expensive, unsuitable, and poor-quality homes. Housing supply needs to be increased now to tackle the housing crisis. This was the conclusion of the report by the Lords Built Environment Committee.
Our report urges the government to address the many barriers that exist to building new homes of all tenures. The government’s target of 300,000 new homes per year will only be met if government takes action to remove the barriers for housebuilders. There is not one silver bullet, but we have identified a series of measures that together could speed matters up and provide a housing dividend.
We call for more homes for the elderly: by 2032 the number of people over 80 is estimated to rise to 5 million, up from 3.2 million today; by 2050 one in four people in the UK will be over 65. As the population ages we will need more specialist and mainstream homes suitable for older people.
Uncertainty and delays to planning reforms have had a 'chilling effect' on housebuilding
We were particularly concerned by the collapse of the role of SMEs in the housebuilding industry. In 1988, SME housebuilders built 39 per cent of new homes; by 2020 this had dropped to 10 per cent. This is bad for competition, quality and diversity in the market. We call for SMEs to be supported by reducing planning risk, making more small sites available, and increasing access to finance.
We heard calls from both planners and developers that uncertainty and delays to planning reforms have had a “chilling effect” on housebuilding and created uncertainty. With fewer than half of councils having an up-to-date local plan, our current system is not as plan led as it is meant to be. We need more up-to-date local plans, and these need to be simpler, and clearer, and local people need to be engaged.
The skills shortages in the sector are on a worrying scale. Planning departments need much more resource to avert an emerging crisis and further delays. Shortages also account for over a third of construction vacancies and almost half of all manufacturing and skilled trades vacancies. Apprenticeship starts have fallen over 25 per cent since the introduction of the levy. We also need upskilling for the green skills needed to address climate change.
We call on the government to reform the funding of infrastructure and affordable housing. Many tenants who would previously have been in social housing are now living in expensive private rented accommodation, with their rents subsidised by housing benefit, which is costing the Exchequer around £23.4 billion per year.
We suggest that a transition to spending more on the social housing stock could provide better value for money and help meet the most critical needs. The Right to Buy and Help to Buy Schemes can also be improved.
This is a long list, which shows why the situation is so difficult. But we need to act on most – preferably all – of these issues very soon if the situation is to get better.
Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE CMG is a Conservative peer and chair of the House of Lords Built Environment Committee.
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