Rearranging the deckchairs – Newgate’s Perry Miller in this month’s Housebuilder

The article below is taken from this month’s edition of Housebuilder magazine.

Perry Miller, partner at Newgate Communications, laments the constant change of direction on government policies on housebuilding

Writing for this column previously, I questioned the contribution that government actually makes to tackling the housing crisis. Facing a deluge of housing-related legislation at that time, I wondered whether we would not all be better off without interfering politicians. No one doubts ministers’ determination to help deliver the homes we need and yet often we appear to be going round in circles: step forward Planning for the right homes in the right places, which directly contradicts the orthodoxy of the past seven years.

It argues for a standardised method of calculating housing need, based on ONS household projections multiplied by an affordability factor. This objective approach would, it is argued, end disputes about housing need and lead to fewer Local Plans being thrown out. Indicative numbers show some quite staggering increases in targets in the South East while in other areas the calculations frequently produce figures lower than those currently planned.

No one’s here to argue about getting more homes built.  I guess my beef is that, if this is the best way to get councils building – that is, to impose a housing target – why did we need to endure Eric Pickles condemning this approach back in 2010 as “Soviet-style planning”? He told us that it was top-down targets that had led to paralysis in housebuilding and that giving power to local communities would change all that. Not any more apparently.

This appears now to have been an aberration and as popular as policies such as Starter Homes (none yet built) or even the Northern Powerhouse, which appear to generate little enthusiasm on the part of the Government. Starter Homes – arguably a sop to middle England, whose children don’t qualify for affordable housing – were themselves a contradiction and a step away from localism, originally to be delivered across every site at a rate of 20%, regardless of local need.

What will the likes of Greater Manchester take from this initiative, already sceptical about the share of investment they receive? Does a policy that requires many more homes to be built in the south east, while easing off the pedal north of the Watford Gap, genuinely support business growth across the north? Local authorities can plan to deliver more – but politicians will wade in: already we have seen one Leeds MP call for fewer homes in the Local Plan in the light of a decrease in the city’s target under the new formula.

I shouldn’t complain. The politicians keep us in business. I just wonder how many more times they can rearrange the deckchairs before they get it right.







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