Christine Whitehead on Ask the Expert: the future of housing in the UK
On July 4th, 2019, Christine Whitehead was one of three panellists at the Social Market Foundation’s ‘Ask the Expert: The Future of Housing in the UK’ panel discussion. Topics discussed included the current state of housing in the UK and the possibilities and challenges that present themselves for a new Prime Minister in the wings. One of the core questions driving the discussion was: How exactly can the next government create fairer housing market for all? Christine along with Lord Kerslake and Jeffrey Matsu were asked to outline their three recommendations for the incoming PM, and how they may go about doing things differently – more efficiently.
Before laying out her recommendations, Christine provided some context. The target set for the number of new homes is unrealistic; better evidence is necessary and available. These target was simply meant to put pressure on the planning system to produce more, but more attention to adequate location and acceptable quality is needed for a sensible and responsible housing markets with varying needs across the country. Permitted development and poor standards postpone and exacerbate problems into the future. To read more about this theme as it applies to the London context, see our latest work on the London Plan’s Examination in Public.
Regarding the standards of what is provided, Christine noted that with increased output there is also increasing evidence of poor-quality building in some contexts. Yet, there should be no need to sacrifice quality over quantity: higher quality is possible without significant cost increases but more incentives to do so are necessary. Energy efficiency in new buildings can be improved more rapidly. Modern methods of construction offer promising possibilities in terms of better quality and should be considered alongside other methods. Read our interview here with Victoria Pinoncely, co-author of the Centre for London’s report ‘Made for London: realising the potential of modern methods of construction’.
Christine also tackled some of myths surrounding new provision and affordability. For example, the belief that building more at levels suggested will reduce house prices does not match the economic evidence, which suggests that new build levels make very little impression on prices overall. Rather, the stock of housing needs to grow in line with incomes if affordability is to improve. And incomes of first-time buyers need to grow more rapidly if they are not to continue to lose out to older generations in the bidding process.
For the challenges this housing market situation presents, Christine suggested the following three immediate recommendations not intended as solutions to the fundamental problems but which would have a (relatively) immediate difference in people’s lives:
- Work to implement the Letwin recommendations (or modifications thereof) on diversifying provision on large sites and on developing a modern form of development corporation. At the same time we would need to sort the relationship between infrastructure provision and housing delivery.
- Reassess permitted development – to ensure adequate standards and a basic contribution to the local community (as well as effectively supporting high street redevelopment).
- Reverse the 4 year freeze on Local Housing Allowance and move quickly on consultation on S21 no fault eviction.