The Government recently unveiled its latest attempt at tackling the UK’s housing crises when it published its eagerly anticipated White Paper.
Billed as a “radical vision” for housebuilding by communities secretary Sajid Javid, the White Paper contains a raft of measures aimed at stimulating the housing market, encouraging more developers to build and increasing transparency around land ownership.
Well intentioned as it is, much of what is being proposed by the Government isn’t new and where new policies have been put forward there is little in the way of detail on how they will work in practice.
Among the key measures included in the White Paper is the promise to protect green belt land from development. However, this doesn’t include brownfield sites within green belt that could be used for starter homes.
The decision to protect Britain’s green belt from future development will no doubt appease those who have fought to preserve it, but if the Government is to get anywhere near its target of building 1 million homes by 2020, releasing green belt land to accommodate housing sites may be the only option, particularly as suitable brownfield sites are in short supply.
In a bid to bring more development sites forward and tackle the issue of landbanking, compulsory purchase orders to seize sites when they are not being built on fast enough will be introduced, which will no doubt concern developers. The problem with this is that it doesn’t factor in how long some sites can take to prepare before they’re ready for building. Ultimately, what this may lead to is fewer planning applications being submitted.
The Government is also planning to name and shame those deemed to be sitting on developable land by allowing the public access to records on who owns the land.
Local councils will also be forced to calculate their five-year housing needs and those that don’t hit their targets could be punished.
What is interesting is that there appears to be a shift away from encouraging local councils to build their own homes, with private developers and housing associations expected to pick up the slack.
To help more small and medium sized developers build more homes – at present around 60 per cent of new homes are built by ten companies – the White Paper set out plans for the £3bn home building fund, which was first announced at the Conservative Party conference last year.
However, one of the biggest turnarounds in the White Paper appears to be the Government’s policy shift from promoting ‘home ownership for all’ to positively encouraging rental schemes and affordable housing.
The booming ‘build-to-rent’ sector or ‘private rented sector (PRS)’ as it is also known looks set to benefit from measures announced in the White Paper, including promoting the building of apartment blocks managed by professional companies and backed by institutional investors.
Birmingham has been quick out the blocks where PRS is concerned with a number of schemes already under construction and due to deliver hundreds of apartments to the city. However, whether PRS will be the white knight of the housing sector is yet to be seen.
There is much to be optimistic about in the Government’s Housing White Paper, but equally there is also cause for concern with some of the policies being proposed.
As Mr Javid admitted, there is “no one single magic bullet” to the housing crisis. The White Paper is a start, but whether it is a credible plan in the long term, time will tell.