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‘Seriously disrupt’ market to solve housing crisis, says Labour MP

Campaign to Protect Rural England

5 min read

A Labour MP has said the housing market must be “seriously disrupted” to ensure thousands more homes are built in England each year.

Roberta Blackman-Woods, the former housing minister, said we are “massively short” of erecting the number of homes needed in England amid blockages in the market.

Some 147,000 homes were built in England in 2016/17, the highest number for a decade. But Dr Blackman Woods said that figure was still “100,000 short”.

Dr Blackman-Woods, who will soon launch Labour’s planning commission, set out proposals for overcoming challenges in the housing market, including:

-        Implementing “much more” effective neighbourhood planning to put people “back in control”

-        Giving people a say on what sort of homes are built, such as how energy efficient they are through to their aesthetics

-        Tackling land banking, which is very damaging to the countryside, by clamping down on developers

-        Instilling transparency on viability assessments

Speaking at the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England’s fringe event at the Labour party conference, Dr Blackman-Woods said: “We are massively short of the building number of homes that we need and we have been short for decades. We have now got a housing crisis and we can see it very clearly, most vividly on the streets of Brighton.

“Last year we completed in England 174,000 properties. That was the best figure for a number of years. But, it’s way short, 100,000 at least, short from what should have been built.

“But critically, the number of homes built of social rent, was 6,800. In Country Durham, there were 20 homes built for social rent in a massive county of half a million people. So, I hope that gives some understanding of just how critical the situation is.

“It really does mean that we have to seriously disrupt the housing market as it currently operates.”

Also present on the panel for the event, titled ‘Can we build more hand affordable homes without sacrificing the countryside’, was Paul Miner, planning campaigner for CPRE; councillor Leigh Redman, member of the Local Government Association’s People and Places Board; and Rose Grayston, senior policy officer at Shelter.

Labour MP John Grogan compered the event. He began: “I’m delighted to be chairing this meeting. With a majority of 249, I’m delighted to be anywhere”.

Mr Miner, the first speaker, said there was broad agreement that there needs to be between 250,000 and 300,000 homes built each year for the next decade.

“But I think where there’s much more dispute is what kind of houses should be built?” he continued.

Turning to building on greenbelt land, he said: “A lot of the criticisms that are being made of greenbelt policy are based on what we feel are essential myths, that a there’s no alternatives to building on the greenbelt when actually we could be doing a lot more to regenerate brownfield sites.

“We could be taking some of the pressure of the south of England by encouraging more development and more economic activity in the northern regions.

“If we are going to see a massive increase in house building, it’s important to understand that this needn’t be at the expense of well-established planning policy tools like greenbelt policy.

“The solution that we all see are more public investment in specifically affordable social housing, but also in regenerating places that need it.”

Mr Redman argued that councils should play a pivotal role in overcoming the UK’s housing crisis.

“We must engage communities and local government in housing developments. Developers, builders, organisations such as the CPRE, and all forms of government want to contribute to solving the nation’s housing crisis. All have a role in doing so,” he said.

“Councils are absolutely central to the solution, and devolution would help ensure that housing developments support is tailored to local need and compatible with preserving the countryside.”

Ms Grayston set out a number of proposals Shelter supports for freeing up the housing market and allowing more homes to be assembled.

She said: “Shelter argues for a new model of house building, new civic house building is what we call it, to build specifically to meet the need for housing as a service. That’s homes for people to live in.

“And we want that to run alongside the existing model of private development, which is there to satisfy the market demand for housing as a financial asset.”

Speaking in the question and answer session, Ms Grayston said there needs to be a “countercyclical model of development” ahead of a reduction in the size of the construction workforce. 

She also called for more support to be given to small and medium sized developers, who often employ apprentices, and focus taken away from larger companies.

She said: “One of the things that’s holding us back is skills. Even without Brexit, we are going to lose 25% of our construction workforce by 2030. One of the really bad impacts of the very cyclical model of private development we have is every time there’s a crash people tend to leave and go on and do other things. It takes a really long time to replace those people.

“Part of the reasons for that is developers don’t really employ anyone. They do it all through subcontractors; they have no interest in training up apprentices. SMEs do, because they rely on a more stable workforce. So, what I think we need to do is provide a countercyclical model of development to run alongside the very cyclical private model of development.

“If everyone knows that a certain amount of development definitely is going to be happening and it can be relied upon and it is going to be supported, then it is possible for SMEs to train more apprentices, it’s possible for councils to invest in those apprenticeships as well.”

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