Government to build 13,000 properties on public land

Government to build 13,000 properties on public land

One debate that will continue to rage on throughout 2016 is how best to deal with the supply/demand imbalance the UK currently has when it comes to housing...

Just a few days into the new year and the government have gone on the offensive, setting out their stall on how they plan to deal with the housing shortage.

In an attempt to ward off criticism about their housebuilding record over the last five years, they have announced plans to directly commission up to 13,000 new homes on public land.

Some 40% of the new build properties will come under the umbrella of the 'starter homes' scheme, which is targeted towards first-time buyers under the age of 40.

In addition, smaller developers will be able to purchase sites in England with planning permission already in place – with the hope that this would drastically speed up building work.

Instead of large building firms assuming responsibility for developing land, direct commissioning will allow the government to take on this mantle.

David Cameron labelled the move “a huge shift in government policy”, while Communities Secretary Greg Clark said the “government was pulling out all the stops to get the country building”.

Labour, however, criticised the Prime Minister's rhetoric on new homes, with Shadow Housing minister John Healey saying the plans promised nothing new in terms of new investment or affordable homes past what had already been announced by the government in the past.

The move, hailed by Downing Street as a “radical new policy shift”, will see up to 13,000 new homes built on five publicly-owned sites.

The sites in question are brownfield land at Old Oak Common, north-west London, the former Connaught Barracks in Dover, ex-MoD land at Northstowe, Cambridgeshire, an old hospital site at Lower Graylingwell, Chichester, and an MoD site at Daedelus Waterfront, Gosport.

Although direct government involvement in housebuilding is seen as a step in the right direction by some, critics point out that 13,000 new homes is just a tiny proportion of the million the Conservatives have promised to build by 2020.

Starter homes have also come in for criticism, with detractors of the scheme insisting they are still too unaffordable for many. The government propose to build 200,000 of these homes by 2020, offered to first-time buyers under the age of 40 at a minimum 20% discount price. The discounts apply to properties worth up to £250,000 outside London, or £450,000 in the capital.

While this is a step in the right direction, there does still seem to be discord between what the government deems affordable and what the public at large do. Affordable homes need to be ones that everyone can afford, regardless of how much they earn. At the moment that is patently not the case.

On the other hand, the announcement that the government will create a £1.2bn fund to aid developers in the preparation of underused brownfield land for building is a welcome and much-needed move.

Like anything else, there are pros and cons to building on brownfield land, but it is one way of solving the housing crisis that has not been explored with enough vigour. Equally, the government's plans to fast-track the creation of 30,000 starter homes by 2020 is also positive.

For too long, the building of new homes in this country has been thwarted by delays, poor planning and bureaucracy. Making the process of building easier is to the benefit of everyone.

There are no easy answers to solving the housing shortage – especially with the failure to build enough new homes over the last few decades causing demand to massively outstrip supply, and more people being forced to give up on home ownership and turn to the private rented sector thanks to high house prices and difficult to acquire mortgages – but at least the government now seems serious about putting housing on the agenda.

13,000 new homes won't solve things on its own – far from it – but it's a more positive step from a government that has been accused in the past of skirting around the issue by coming up with schemes that could be perceived as gimmicky, such as Help to Buy, rather than actually dealing with the issue at root.

With home ownership declining, there needs to be a concerted effort to build more houses – and genuinely affordable ones at that. The new year has got off to the right start in that respect, but we will have to wait and see if the government follows through with their promises. Their record so far means a healthy dose of scepticism is certainly warranted.