We need more housing of all types including for sale, for market rent and affordable. This must be the government’s overruling priority.
If the UK is serious about boosting housebuilding it needs to place as much importance on housing as on other infrastructure. We need to prioritise and plan for it as we do hospitals and railways. To create the increased delivery we need, expanding nationally significant infrastructure project status to include major housing schemes really is key - especially in areas of high demand.
Government driving through new developments won’t be enough, however. Councils need to take an active and leading role in increasing supply. This means planning departments need to be adequately resourced. Common complaints focus on the speed of decision-making and the churn of planning officers. Both could be tackled if planning departments were properly financed and this could be recouped by a fall in costly appeals.
One way around this could be higher planning fees, which I’m sure developers would accept in return for stronger planning performance. Another would be to give councils more control over their finances. But to ensure fiscal devolution has the desired effect, it could be tied to housing delivery. In short: more powers for more houses.
Councils also need to be creative and collaborate - especially at a regional level. Our two-tier planning system works well on a local and national level, but fails in between. Pooling resources and combining planning teams would deliver consistent decisions across an economic area and reduce costs.
Cooperating with the private sector is crucial as well. This might mean some flexibility over section 106 agreements to support Build to Rent, or more formal partnerships to utilise public land for long-term income-generation. The private sector could be doing more, using its own resources and creativity to create a greater social impact.
The government needs to underscore these opportunities with realistic commitments, particularly on transport funding. Breaking down cross-departmental silos to unify our approach across education and health as well will be vital.
Lord Kerslake, Former HCA chief executive & permanent secretary to the DCLG