Published on Friday, 10th March 2017

 

While to those of us who are adequately housed, it may not appear there is a housing crisis, when viewed from government, there clearly is. Household formation in England is running at perhaps 210,000 per year, while completions have varied between 110,000 and 170,000 over the last fifteen years, but have always lagged some way behind. The unmet demand drives house price inflation and is behind the sub-division of existing homes into Houses in Multiple Occupation.

 

This then is the background for the Housing White Paper and the thinking behind it. Billed as a really important document that will solve the housing shortage, it is actually quite modest. In particular, there is nothing in there about allowing house building on greenbelt land around the edges of London - and without that there can be no solution to £1500 plus a month rents for modest flats in unfashionable parts of the capital.

 

Instead, the emphasis is on forcing local authorities to deliver the numbers in their local plans, on some longer-term measures on skills and on encouraging smaller developers and on a few legal changes to make things clearer for renters.

 

Many of the measures are uncontroversial and sensible, although often limited in impact: so providing extra help to smaller construction companies when bidding for government funds will help, as will encouraging factory built housing, greater training opportunities in construction trades, rules to ban hidden charges in leasehold agreements and some positive moves about infrastructure funding. There are however two aspects in particular that are not so good and that may affect Portsmouth.

 

At the moment, local authorities have to have local plans and have to grant planning consent for a certain level of development, but if insufficient applications come forward or sites are not developed then that is not their problem; in the future, it will be. The government is proposing a housing delivery test, which will see areas that are not meeting 65% of their target by 2020 lose some powers to protect sites from development; in the context of Portsmouth, that could mean the possible loss of significant amounts of industrial land. Portsmouth has a profound shortage of space and is behind on its target, with completions running at around 400 a year against a target of 550 and demand of something like 900. That will improve in the medium term as all the new student rooms count towards the target on a 5:1 basis, but in the longer term, though, the shortage of plausible sites is not going to go away.

 

Another concern is the proposed extension of the Right-to-Buy to some properties built by councils through arm's length companies. With no legislation on the table, it’s impossible to say exactly what this will mean, but it may affect some properties being built now by the City Council for discounted rent in Leigh Park. While the Right to Buy has transformed estates, it also undermines the economics of building new homes.

 

Overall then it’s a mixed bag.

 

Tags: Planning, Housing