05. 11. 2007

Today's housing debate

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Comments (11)

There is something incredibly narrow and reductionist about today’s housing debate, in that it all comes down to crude numbers. How many more houses do we need, by when and where?

Gordon Brown has of course upped the ante by plumping for 3 million new homes, which boils down to 240,000 net additional homes by 2016.

According to CPRE and many others, that’s scary enough. But they will be positively aghast at the new report from the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit (NHPAU) which argues that 240,000 is just for wimps, and what we really need is 270,000 new homes a year by 2016. So do I hear any advance on 270,000?

The NHPAU is a relatively new body which describes itself as “an expert body whose job is to tell decision-makers how they can make housing more affordable”. Fine – and an eminent bunch of people they are too. But CLG’s job (where most of these decision-makers reside) is to facilitate delivery of 3 million homes that are both affordable and sustainable. Not just affordable.

And the NHPAU clearly knows nothing about sustainability, and doesn’t even pretend to. But that makes its report mind-bogglingly inadequate, as it does all its clever sums without any serious reference to sustainability issues whatsoever. (I’m discounting the occasional tokenistic reference to “higher environmental standards” and the like – they are just there to provide the merest green veneer).

So what use is it, I wonder, for all those decision-makers in CLG and for Yvette Cooper herself, Minister for Housing to get a report that may be absolutely brilliant on the affordability side of things (but I’ve got some real reservations about that too, as it happens), but offers literally sod all on the sustainability dimension?

These days, you really can’t do the one without the other, which means that unless advice like this is properly “SD-proofed”, it’s really not of much use.

This lack of basic sd capability is such a huge problem across the whole of government, let alone across its advisory bodies. It’s exactly the same with Treasury’s Sub-National Review of Economic Development and Regeneration, drafted by all sorts of hugely intelligent economic wonks in Treasury who would probably be the first to admit that their only knowledge of sustainable development is their ability to spell the words – on 34 separate, largely meaningless occasions, as it happens (yes, I have counted!).

But I’ll have more to say on the Sub-National Review in a wee while. Meanwhile, I just hope someone is going to take their green pen to the NHPAU’s report.

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05. 11. 2007
Stuart Singleton-White

Well said Jonathon. It is the dislocation of these types of report and considerations from the complex picture that is required to be considered if we are to properly factor in SD requirements that I find so depressing. It isn’t simply numbers or affordability, or indeed green field verse brown field, which matters here. It is how housing both responds and drives economic activity, how it is therefore distributed across the UK (or in the case of the CLG, England), how it impacts on resources both in terms of the resources it needs, e.g. building materials and energy requirements, and in terms of the consumption generated e.g. transport and other infrastructure requirements.

The UK both could and could not accommodate 270,000 new houses a year at the same time. It’s a silly argument. Come on government let’s start talking about the type of houses, their impact and their geographical spread, then lets include the economic, social and environmental conditions we need, not merely in the south east but across England.

05. 11. 2007
mark Brinkley

>>Meanwhile, I just hope someone is going to take their green pen to the NHPAU’s report.

Check out House 2.0


06. 11. 2007

Three million more homes versus Britain's "green and pleasant land". Economics, as always, in a direct clash with the environment.

Britain was only just able to grow enough food for its population of 40 million (or was it 50 million?) in 1945, using every available bit of flat land. How would we be able to feed our soon-to-be 75 million if we had to? How would we do that as well as grow enough bio-fuels? Has the government any idea as to the optimum (sustainable) size of human population for Britain?

07. 11. 2007

What we need isn't more houses - it's fewer people. Unfortunately 'population control' is more politically sensitive (at the moment) than building on green belt. It also makes a mockery of any thoughts on 'sustainability' (development, production, consumption...).

I'm not, as some may suspect, simply following the current trend of aportioning blame on the vast influx of eastern European immigrants. No, though we do need to be realistic about just how many 'visitors' we can accommodate, we need even more to tackle the UK birthrate as a matter of some urgency. But, as with most issues having a political angle, the more urgent an issue the slower the response.

07. 11. 2007
Peter H

Whatever happended to Gordon Brown's promise last year to make every new home carbon-neutral by 2017? I don't think I've seen it on the statute book - perhaps spun out of sight. There is so much that could be economically incorporated into new housing to maximize efficiency making them more affordable in long-term use rather than just capital build costs, but there's no incentive for house-builders to take these up with a strong legislative requirement.

12. 11. 2007
Jessica Symons

We need regulation against second home and Buy to Let ownership. That would release over 1m homes nationwide. But of course this would really annoy multiple property owners and the middle classes, so will it happen? I see precious little of brave, real, genuine attempts to close the poverty gap in this so-called Christian led government.

We need holistic solutions, not number crunching.

13. 11. 2007
Biff Vernon

Affordable Housing? Since when did a developer build an unaffordable house (and stay in business)?

14. 11. 2007

Well said Jessica. But, business as usual, it's likely to be economics that drives the housing debate. With the best of intentions the government may call for 'affordable' housing to help the lower-paid, but it's doubtful that the house builders will willingly cut their profit margins.

If they do reduce their costs I suspect it'll mark a return to basic shoe-box houses which, though they may satisfy the government's carbon-neutral target, won't provide a home to the people that have to live in them.

31. 12. 2007
Neil Craig

Lets have sustainable houses. Much better if they don't fall down. Or is this yet another misuse of the English language where "sustainable" no more means able to be sustained than "people's democracy" means anything to do with democracy?

29. 11. 2007

As suggested over on George M's 'Comment is Free', failing the obvious need to drop the 'Economy is God' model and the parties and allies who enforce it, then a simple economic solution:

Get the HBF to build the 'needed' houses in Poland. This and other sources of the 300,000 a year 'expected soon' economic migrants, was one of many 'developed world' countries that were already experiencing population decline before we started sucking in their mobile youth to work here. How much worse must their home countries' plight be now?

If the government and the HBF are not going to come right out and admit that the intention all along has been that new house building is to facilitate infinite immigration, and infinite immigration is for the purpose of going on endlessly building houses: then it would be a very simple matter to build palatially affordable houses in Poland, for those in real housing need in the UK.

This would really give those at the bottom of the pile, in the UK a real chance of a new life, and much better accommodation and space than they would ever have here. If GM's examples are typical, then the rapidly draining Eastern States, would get an excellent new infusion of rapidly breeding new blood, to replace their own displaced slow breeder, generation. This new infusion would come with UK benefits, that even at a much lower rate than 'at home', would still go much further for the recipients, and at the same time boost the local economy. This economy would continue to be boosted also by the remittances sent home by the displaced workers in the UK.

A win, win, win, win, situation!

Why is it that the UK is incapable of ensuring that trade is as it is meant to be: a TWO way process?

As others have pointed out, the UK is already grossly overcrowded, with population that it cannot support with the produce and resources of our own land. Disaster is just a hiccough and a drought or two away. Our leaders' response? To drive us to the precipice at infinitely accelerating speed. Their madness is palpable, and they should be locked up. We could build a special new prison in Poland...


18. 11. 2008
Ares Zaimes

In London, where most of the affordable housing is supposed to be built, it appears that a lot of controversy comes from the Mayor’s office.

The London Plan sets a strategic target that the overall tenure mix on new homes should be 50:50 market:affordable, and that the affordable housing should be 70:30 social rented:intermediate and is covered on page 153, paragraph 37 in the Mayor’s draft Housing Strategy. These are not one size fits all targets and cannot be achieved on every development and it is probably for this reason that a threshold of 35% has been set.
Due to restrictions on Local Authorities building new homes, a Local Authority would use this sum, through a Housing Association or Registered Social Landlord to provide the affordable homes that, in theory, is required. This money is known as 'the commuted sum', and has always been used to finance the construction of additional affordable housing.

When Housing Associations or Registered Social Landlords go into contracts with private developers, the later have a number of options ranging from differing the affordable component for less marketable sites to paying the equivalent cash sum to the value of the affordable units that are required to the Local Authority.

Some London Boroughs are using the 'commuted sum' not for the purpose of providing new affordable units, as has been the case in the past, but for the 'refurbishment' of existing sub-standard social housing stock, i.e. financing the repairs bill at the cost of providing additional social housing.

It gets even worse as some RSL’s enter into controversial contracts with building contractors and the Local Authorities have approved schemes which offer as low as 10% affordable housing. The rest 90% of the development is saleable homes built on social land.
As a result of a recent change in the funding criteria of the Housing Corporation, some RSL’s are planning to deliver the affordable component of the housing required through grants (taxpayers money), whilst the controversial contracts with private building contractors will remain unchallenged.

The already difficult situation for affordable housing is going to become even worse with the Mayor’s new housing policy, which appears to be removing the requirement of affordable housing for new developments.

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