Meeting Housing Demand Union4 Planning

Meeting Housing Demand

The House of Lords Built Environment Committee recently published a report entitled ‘Meeting Housing Demand’, which focuses on the challenges facing the housing sector. The report is framed by the Government’s target to build 300,000 (net) new homes per year by 2024 and addresses the main barriers in reaching this target. The report considers strategies for building the correct type of homes in the right places.

The report highlights that a high proportion of people are living in expensive, unsuitable, and poor-quality housing, calling for action from the Government to remove the barriers for housebuilders to build the correct types of housing to meet the determined targets, while satisfying the housing needs of the population into the future. It is noted that social housing is currently costing the Government £23.4 billion a year, due to social housing tenants occupying expensive housing with subsidised rent. This is an unsustainable solution that could be mitigated through the construction of adequate amounts of appropriate social housing, which would minimise costs for the Government and reduce social housing waiting lists.

Build-to-rent developments are similarly encouraged as valid contributors to the housing supply. Additionally, population trends forecast that declining fertility rates paired with extended lifespans will contribute to an ageing population, requiring single-occupancy homes within ‘mainstream’ or specialised housing. The report also notes the changing dynamic of migration arising from Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, which should be become clearer in the data arising from the 2021 Census of Population.

The report identifies the requirement for diversification within the housebuilding sector to include a greater number of SME developments, whereby planning and financial risk is minimised and more sites are made available. To meet housing targets, it is suggested that land close to railway stations that provide services to major employment centres should be more actively utilised for housing developments, in order to maximise the use of rail travel and exploit underdeveloped land. It is also noted that there is scope to release sections of Green Belt and agricultural land for housing developments.

Finally, the report addresses the “chilling effect” that the delays to planning reform has had on housebuilding and planners. Moreover, reference is made to the importance of a ‘plan lead’ system of development, which has not been possible in the absence of up-to-date local plans and sufficient planners. Suggestions for reform of the sector include simplification of processes extending to the development of local plans in order to reduce delays in processing and to allow for greater levels of community engagement. The shortage of local authority planners is highlighted as a requirement to meeting the Government’s housing targets. In order to address this shortage, greater funding of the sector and an increase in planning fees are suggested.