Few people would dispute that Britain is in the middle of a housing crisis.
The exact numbers might be open to argument but the ever growing gap between supply and demand means that millions of hard working people are increasingly priced out of buying their own home. The average house price is now nine times larger than the average wage, which means that a typical low to middle income household would now have to save for 22 years to accumulate a deposit for the typical first home, compared to just three years in 1997.
This housing crisis has profound consequences for the whole of our society. It undermines economic prosperity and increases the cost of living by reducing affordability. There are also serious costs for health and education.
We have reached a crunch point with an increasing number of people locked out of homeownership altogether. The government’s response has done little for the majority who just want a place to call home.
There is a large and growing disaffected generation who are being squeezed in the private rental sector, with rents too high for them to be able to save. We have set out a series of proposals to help make
private renting more stable and affordable but we must also do more to help generation rent get onto the housing ladder.
The government’s approach to kick-starting the housing industry after the crash focussed on reducing development costs and reducing necessary deposits through schemes like Help to Buy. These initiatives failed to address the fundamental short term nature of the industry’s approach to development and they are not leading to new project pipeline development.
A Labour government will do much more to stimulate development. We know we need to make better use of planning gain to provide much needed new infrastructure to underpin new development.
Labour has also been clear that new towns and garden cities must be part of the solution to the current housing crisis. A new generation of these towns will work best if they have local public and political support. In some areas new developments are going ahead already. For example, in Northstowe, west of Cambridge, local support has been won for a new settlement of 10,000 homes. We need to look at measures to enable more developments of this type to be brought forward in line with the interests of the local area.
The most recent British attitudes survey found that while around 80 per cent of people recognise the need for more housing 46 per cent of people oppose new housing developments in their local area. This is due to the way in which people perceived the cost-benefit of new housing. Many people worry that new houses will bring down property values, strain local infrastructure and detract from the quality and character of the area. At the same time they do not see benefits such as increased investment, improved facilities and employment and apprenticeship opportunities.
Proper financial incentives are a key part of developing local support but they are not enough in themselves; only two per cent of people say that financial incentives alone would encourage them to support new development. We therefore need to look at other means of building community support and ensuring that the benefits of development and the planning system are seen to outweigh any costs. Neighbourhood planning has a role to play in enabling communities to identify where to put new housing and associated infrastructure. Labour would streamline the local plan-making system to help achieve this.
This could lead to a new relationship between people and planning – one that builds places and communities, not just housing. Developing a more community based planning system is essential if people’s faith in the planning system is to be restored and stand the test of time.
A future Labour government could work with groups of local authorities who will identify, working closely with their local communities, locations capable of sustaining suitable large scale sites for new towns and existing town expansions as well as identifying smaller plots for development.
Valuing local government and localism is absolutely essential. But really embracing localism has to go beyond devolving more powers to local government, important though that is, to really giving communities a say in important decisions that affect them.
People rightly want to know about the kind of community that will result from any new development. They want to know what it will look like, where they will work and where their children will go to school and it is through recognising and planning for this that support for new towns, garden cities and urban extensions should be able to be achieved. The arguments for giving local councils and communities more power resonate now more than ever.