JLL Residential

Stop playing politics and go all in on housing policy

By Adam Challis, UK and EMEA Head of Residential Research, JLL

I have been inclined lately to proffer up yet another commentary – to add to the legion – on government plans to boost housing supply. I like to think it would be a well-reasoned critique, with a planning nip here and a land value tuck there, alongside yet another clarion call for more money. The presumption would be to spend wisely of course, these are still austere days after all – and away we go.

Except “we” never do go very far. Except housing supply never does respond very much. This, as a result, will not be that commentary.

Readers of this blog will know that I have been a big supporter of the Housing White Paper. Where others see a damp squib, I see a document that finally acknowledges the unspoken truth. To move the needle on housing supply, we need to do things differently. Nip and tuck fine, but the time has come to move beyond precision surgery. It’s time for – and even this has become a cliché in housing circles – bold action.

When you think about it, it’s pretty obvious isn’t it? Need 100,000 more houses each year for the next… well… forever? I’ve got it: planning reform. No wait, planning reform with a slice of accelerated land release. No wait – planning reform, accelerated land release and a BIG pot of money.

The current big pot is the £3bn home building fund, which amounts to roughly £3,000 per additional home needed over the next decade in the form of a recoupable loan. That is not a lot of money. That is even less government commitment. I appreciate I’m being a bit simplistic, but given that the Conservative manifesto offers no new capital, it would suggest that solutions to the housing crisis will somehow be conjured up by doing the same old things, just a little bit better. Really?

Surely we can see that the same incremental improvements will yield the same (at best) incremental results. We need bold leadership and bold action. This isn’t a tub-thumping, soapbox moment. It’s just facing the facts. We aren’t taking the problem seriously.
Hands off my policy

At this point, many critics of modern housing policy will point, with dewy eyes, to the good old era of council housing delivered in the 1950s and 1960s. Surely that’s it – we need councils to build again. No, we don’t.

This era also coincided with the new towns era. If only we had more Stevenages and Harlows, right? OK, so not a ringing endorsement, but then I would argue they were of their time and today’s masterplanning and placemaking adopts a very different set of priorities. The model will evolve.

I have been pretty critical of new town ideas in the past, with the succession of failures in the modern era spanning all three major political parties. Yep, even the Lib Dems had a failed crack at it under the coalition government only a few short years ago. But what we have not seen, and this is the lynchpin for me, is cross-party support for solutions.

Housing policy – well, housing policy with the scale of the new towns ambition that we need – takes time to get right. Inevitably, that means successive governments, probably with a few different flavours along the way.

But is it too much to ask for a bit of non-partisan spirit, in the interest of actually getting something started, to gain cross-party support for the bold housing solutions. Nobody’s going to win or lose an election over it; we’re all in it together.

Then – just maybe – we can stop playing politics with housing policy, but have politicians taking more ambitious steps in the right direction for longer than the nanosecond that governments seem to last for these days.

So to the new government I say this: strong and stable my foot, get the foundations in place first.