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What needs to change in planning to speed up the delivery of social housing?

In a YouGov poll commissioned by the National Housing Federation (NHF), a significant majority of adults agreed that not enough social housing is being built in the UK.  According to the NHF, just 6,554 social homes were built in England last year, 81% fewer than in 2010 and significantly below the deficit of 90,000.

The Government is doing little to increase the supply of housing, let alone social housing for rent. With Michael Gove’s recent calling-in and refusal of a 165 home Berkeley development in Kent, on the basic that the design was too ‘generic’, the Government has concerned itself too much with the detail of design, which while laudable does not address the bigger picture.

The proposed removal of the mandatory requirement for a five-year land supply plan is believed to have cut the number of houses that will be consented next year by at least half and a recent study by the HBF suggested housebuilding in England is set to fall below 120,000 a year. If (and this may be optimistic) 30% of new homes built are affordable / social housing, this amounts to no more than 36,000., which does little to address the 90,000 a year deficit.

In 1945, Clement Attlee won the general election claiming that a vote for Labour was a vote to “build the houses — quick!” and did so.  Harold Wilson built 400,000 annually in the 1960s, a total not beaten since. 

In both cases, the delivery of considerable numbers of new homes was facilitated through public funding. Although market homes are now delivered in larger numbers by the private sector, public support is necessary to facilitate wide-spread development, and specifically the much-needed increase in social housing.

It was publicly funded development corporations that created the New Towns of the 50s, 60s and 70s and the same legislation that enabled more recent successes such as Ebbsfleet. Projects such as this, specifically regarding delivery, are well co-ordinated around infrastructure, target-focused with  both plan making and development management powers to expediate decision making. They demonstrate that successful large-scale development is driven from the centre, enshrined in regional policy and implemented over a period much longer than a single parliamentary term.

Public funding and political will is necessary to deliver the requisite amount of homes, and thus the requisite proportion of social housing: not simply shared ownership and discount market schemes such as First Homes focused on home ownership, but socially rented homes that local authorities, with rapidly expanding housing lists, are crying out for.

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