Government steps up housebuilding drive ahead of 2015 election - but will drip feeding development be enough?
Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government
Lewis steps up government housebuilding drive ahead of 2015 election - but will drip feeding developers be enough?
Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis has announced the next phase of the government's attempt to get as many new homes as possible built before next year's general election.
Under the latest scheme, councils that bring forward brownfield land for development could benefit from a share of £5 million to get work started on the new homes.
Lewis said the move could help pave the way for planning permissions on up to 200,000 new homes across the country.
The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is currently splashing the cash to try and get developers, councils and housing associations to do all they can to build more homes in the coming months.
The latest announcement comes swiftly on the back of a £3 million 'site capacity fund' which aims to get work started on as many as 85 new housing sites where development has been agreed. The government hopes this can accelerate the delivery of up helping to 25,000 new homes.
DCLG is also offering to pay housing associations and other registered providers 75%, rather than 50%, of grant upfront if they start schemes funded under the 2015-18 Affordable Homes Programme before 31 March 2015.
The government knows that housing will play a key battleground come election time and is attempting to bolster housebuilding figures after four years of under delivery caused by the recession and budget cuts.
It has recently been spooked by figures, leaked to the BBC, which show housing starts are forecast to fall by 4% next year.
According to BBC Newsnight, the document in which the figures are contained states: "DCLG expect a decrease in the number of houses started this year: down from 133,650 in 2013/2014 to c.128,000 in 2014/15 (-4%).”
Other government initiatives designed to fast track housing development include:
- The Builders Finance Fund - a £525 million fund to provide development finance for smaller sites to support the construction of up to 15,000 new homes. The new investment will be made available to unlock “shovel-ready” sites between 15 to 250 homes, which have their plans in place and the support of local people.
- The large sites infrastructure programme - a £1 billion fund designed to help accelerate and unlock housing developments of at least 1,500 housing units that have slowed down or stalled completely.
- Locally-led garden cities prospectus - this invites local authorities to put forward their ideas for how they wish to develop garden cities, how they wish to make use of the existing central government funding and support.
There are concerns, however, that all this is too little, too late. Earlier this year, the governor of the bank of England Mark Carney warned of "deep structural problems" in the British housing marker stemming from a shortage of fresh stock.
And property agents Savills has estimated that the shortfall of homes in the south of England will reach 160,000 over the next five years. The most stark gap between supply and demand is in London where 14,400 more homes a year are needed than currently planned for by the Greater London Authority.
Housing analysts point to a multitude of reasons for the lack of supply.
Susan Emmett, residential research director at Savills, is just one of the many who points the finger of blame firmly at the planning system: "While the Conservatives have not set a house-building target, it has been the coalition government's policy to support the housing market as a mechanism for stimulating consumer confidence, creating jobs and therefore supporting economic growth. The general consensus on the need for more homes, however, masks local disagreements over what is to be built where."
Other disagree, including Shaun Spiers, the director of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). While many in housing are quick to dismiss the CPRE as the campaign group for NIMBYs, what he says in actual fact hits the nail on the head: "When this country built enough houses, for 35 years after the war, the public sector built more than half of them. Private sector supply has remained fairly steady throughout the postwar period, allowing for the economic cycle, but public finance now goes to paying for housing benefit rather than building homes.
"This is why we now have a housing crisis. Any government that is serious about tackling it should focus on shortcomings in the UK industry and the lack of public funding, rather than fixating on planning."
This government may be pro-housebuilding, it may have acknowledged that we have a housing crisis and it may have introduced measures to speed up development but it is fundamentally opposed to large scale state funding - even when it could bolster their chances of winning the next election. Drip feeding development is simply not enough.