David Cameron’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference this year reaffirmed the government’s commitment to tackling the housing challenge.
By positioning the ‘starter homes’ policy as central to unblocking housebuilding, the prime minister has also made a clear move away from ‘generation rent’, shifting the affordable definition to include homes to buy as well as rental properties.
The government’s proposals should, in theory, be good news for developers. In the long run, the changes may also speed up delivery of developments already in the pipeline. But delivering homes on plots already identified is just the start; there is still a need to look at additional sites that can accommodate much larger schemes.
While all initiatives that encourage housebuilding are no doubt a good thing, accelerating affordable home ownership at the expense of the affordable rental sector will not deliver enough homes. History shows the private sector alone cannot deliver housing at the required scale, with supply only ever meeting demand in the past 100 years through a multi-tenured approach. With the government’s recent move putting the future of shared ownership schemes - one of the proven routes to affordable home ownership - at risk, new ideas must be brought forward as a matter of urgency to encourage new, mixed-tenure developments.
A strategy that extends the breadth of development players is needed, enabling new entrants into the market. Encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), for example, will be key to addressing challenges around affordability and access to market. Development corporations and new towns also have a role to play in providing the step-change needed in delivery.
Introducing such initiatives will help meet the housing shortfall. Yet fundamental to tackling the problem is the need for a joined-up approach, with homes built in line with infrastructure investment and development. A clear programme that links homes, transport, utilities and energy would enable people to live close to employment opportunities and new communities to flourish.
The UK’s lack of housing supply will only be resolved if housing is recognised as a vital component of long-term strategic decisions on infrastructure. Excluding housing from the remit of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) is surely a missed opportunity.
It is critical the NIC recognises that infrastructure and economic growth are inextricably linked with housing delivery. This would be a fundamental step towards reversing decades of underinvestment and shortage of supply.
Tom Venables is director of design, planning and economics at Aecom