For decades all of the major political parties have failed us on housing. The deficit is 100,000 homes per annum that should be built but are not built (240,000 needed vs 140,000 built). We’ve been let down and the result is sky high house prices as a consequence of increasing demand from a population that grows older and lives longer, with the addition of growing immigration and the propensity for single occupant householders. Equally, rental stock is similarly short and renting, seen as the second choice to buying, has become ever more expensive too. Ironically, the lack of social housing being built by local authorities (remember the council house? Hardly any are built now) means that private investor landlords are propping up a generation on housing benefit that’s growing fast whilst council waiting lists are bursting at the seams. In three weeks the country goes to the polls. As usual, housing is a hot topic for Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, all of whom have announced their manifestos and all of which go heavy on housing rhetoric. Our fear based on history is that no matter which of the three major parties wins at the ballot box on June 8th, the housing crisis will not be tackled. The rhetoric and the throwaway words in election leaflets and within set piece news interviews by spokespersons will turn to dust once dawn breaks on June 9th.
What Should Be Done?
So this is what should be done. A straightforward plan to build sufficient housing for current and future generations and to prevent homeownership being a luxury rather than a necessity a very real danger if we carry on as blindly as we are now.
Secretary of State for Housing & Planning
Appoint the Housing Minister to Cabinet. The Conservative/Lib Dem coalition of 2010 removed the role from being a position that attended Cabinet. How can housing be treated as the priority that it is unless the person leading it is sufficiently senior enough to push its agenda?
National and local Government own thousands upon thousands of hectares of land that is under-used and some have been entirely forgotten altogether, as within its ownership.
The green belt was incepted for a good reason, to protect from urban sprawl. But its existence has not been reviewed for 60 years and there is now a demand for a land resource that was not originally envisaged. There are parts of the green belt that are, frankly, not very green at all such as scrap yards, industrial estates and so on. Just 9% of the UK is currently built on. Releasing just 1% of the current green belt, the scrappy bits, would yield 16,000 hectares of developable land. Enough for 800,000 homes.
Developer Land Bank Incentives & Penalties
Developers are not the problem in holding onto land that can be developed but they are part of the problem. The larger house builders ‘land bank’ up to 10,000 plots of land at any one time, albeit that this represents widely differing statuses of developable land, i.e some of it does not have permission and may take some time to acquire such. Having said that, it is in the interests of the major house-builders to drip-feed building as their shareholders ultimately require rather than when the country requires that building. A simple penalty system to force the build-out of this land-bank alone would be too punitive and heavy-handed and would simply lead to less land being purchased by them and this would simply contribute further to the lack of supply. Instead, developers must be incentivised to release more land for building…. The solution is, therefore, a combination of ‘carrot and stick’, to allow tax breaks to ensure that corporation tax scales on land that is over a certain age when developed. Land in ownership for less than five years would attract a lower corporation tax than land that has been owned for more than five years.
Any Term ASTs
The number of people renting their homes, often through necessity as they are unable to afford to purchase, is climbing. The rate of owner-occupation is falling. Yet the standard Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) agreements that are used by up to one million renters each year is in desperate need of updating. The AST is a relic of ‘holiday-lets’ and provides a maximum term with which to afford adequate protection to both landlord and tenant of just one year. One year is not enough time for a family to settle and to feel confident in making their rented property a home for the long term. Too often, a landlord will hurry the tenant out of the door at 12 months rather than renewing the agreement. Therefore, our proposal is that ASTs are permissible for any term that the landlord and tenant so agree between themselves and with the same legal protections for both sides as the currently used AST agreement.
Social Housing Investment scheme
Social housing, much like housing overall, cannot be relied upon based upon a purely market-led approach. For some years supply of social rental and affordable purchase/part purchase has largely been achieved through linking to S106 agreements based upon planning permissions for large-scale residential developments. Hence, when developers decide to slow down house building per se, social housing flow suffers despite demand increasing regardless. Therefore, the Social Housing Investment Scheme will allow individuals and companies to invest in building social housing schemes in return for the monies that they invest being deemed tax free. After five years, they would be permitted to sell the scheme on to a further such investor or a housing association. The result will be the private sector actively being encouraged to fund stand-alone social housing that will ensure a significant boost to supply.
GB Developments Limited
The market-led approach to providing adequate housing supply does not work. Notwithstanding our proposals around Developer Land Bank Incentives and Penalties, there is a need for a different approach to ensuring that enough homes are built. We propose a radical change to development that is predicated around a publicly owned property developer being established that actively seeks out private and publicly owned sites that it then achieves planning consent for and develops itself. The country can no longer rely upon the private sector alone to provide our growing population with accommodation and therefore a competing entity in the form of GB Developments Limited will take them on, head to toe and to beat them to the punch on acquiring land and building on it. Profits will be reinvested in further schemes and will be owned by the tax-payer.
We believe that our seven proposals will free up housing supply, ensure adequate accommodation for the UK’s expanding and ageing population, will self-regulate prices of purchase and rental properties through natural market forces and will promote freedom, choice and fairness for aspirational homeowners and renters as not seen since the 1950’s. It is our hope that all the major political parties stop, look and listen to our manifesto and embrace our pleas. Our country cannot afford to become further embroiled in what is fast becoming a housing crisis that may have extreme social and economic implications if not resolved now.Russell Quirk