by James Rayner, Main Board Director
The recent raft of measures announced by the Government to tackle the UK’s housing crisis are laudable – but it remains to be seen if they will make a significant impact where there is the greatest need.
The new measures will have an impact – 400,000 new homes if they can be delivered will represent a major step forward – but there remains a lack of focus on unlocking the potential within our existing urban and city landscape.
Incentivising developers to deliver more affordable housing is one thing, but without matching policies on where these houses should be built, the core problems will remain. The reality is that, it is in our great cities – like London – where the lack of affordable housing is most acute. While the London Plan sets out a framework for the delivery of housing, the high land values and difficulties associated with developing many urban sites makes it unlikely that developers alone will build affordable housing where it is most needed.
Where are the policies and incentives that will encourage the wave of urban regeneration and urban renaissance needed to create a new generation of city-based, transit orientated, mixed-income communities? The issues are complex. We need strategies and policies that sufficiently respond to these complexities at a city-regional level and at a land viability level.
The announcement that there will be a drive to release more public land, most notably former prisons – to help accelerate supply suggests an understanding that brownfield sites can play a key role in this process, but the lack of fresh incentives may still prove an insurmountable barrier to bring such land forward.
There are myriad sites within our towns and cities with problems such as contamination, difficult access etc, and with the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) already weighing heavily on a site’s viability, development feasibility and attractiveness becomes reduced. A good use of government spending and policy would be to support the remediation of such land, with the aim that developers and other agencies / associations then assist in the delivery of genuinely affordable homes on these sites.
There is much land situated around existing railway lines and stations and we know the benefits that transit orientated development can bring. Agencies like Transport for London (TfL) and the local boroughs need to be encouraged and incentivised to examine and capture the opportunities around stations and transit. TfL’s proposed property partnerships are a step in the right direction but it will require real and tangible investment from Government and the private sector to bring these opportunities forward. The benefits would be worth it if we are serious about providing cities fit for the 21st century.
Transformational infrastructure projects such as Crossrail and HS2 should be driving our housing provision and while we are starting to see this being done at a local level, there remains no co-ordinated approach across the length of either line – a situation brought into sharper focus by the announcement that part of HS2’s phase two between Birmingham and Crewe will now be delivered six years earlier.
We have a Government, cities, developers and agencies eager to build, we have a spending review that has great intentions – now all we need is an integrated, targeted and focussed housing strategy for our cities and their regions. Without this we will as a country spend large sums building our future homes in a more scattered and incremental manner. This will undoubtedly solve part of the problem but at the same time it will skirt many of the issues that will ultimately effect the future quality, liveability and competiveness of our cities. The 21st century is the era of the ‘smart city’ - let’s apply some smart thinking to housing.