Ten steps to increasing housing supply in England

Professor Glen Bramley
Professor Glen Bramley

I-SPHERE Housing Economist Glen Bramley gives his ‘Ten Point Plan’ for increasing housing supply in England.

In November last year, I was invited to meet with analysts at the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), to consider how we can substantially raise the level of new housebuilding in England. In preparation, I put together the ‘Ten-Point Plan’ below, which attracted a lot of comment at that meeting and has since been mentioned in various other forums.

These ten ideas are not entirely original, but are rather crafted and tweaked from, for example, the Lyons Commission inquiry of 2014 and the Highbury Group on Housing Delivery. One of the problems with those excellent pieces of work is that they end up with a very long list of recommendations. In developing this list, I have focused on those things I consider would make the most crucial difference. This starts with key determinants of the way the planning system sets numerical targets, moves on through the way these are directed and coordinated geographically, the need to harness the enabling and motivating forces of infrastructure and city-region growth agendas, key measures for proactive public involvement in land development, to conclude with a reaffirmation of the proven value of planning agreements for affordable housing. Although presented here quite baldly, these points do reflect an evidence base, in terms of my own and colleagues’ recent research, which is detailed in evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Long Term Policy on Built Environment. More generally, I draw on my experience as an applied researcher over about 45 years. I hope they provide a useful contribution to the debate:

  1. ‘Train’/brief planning inspectorate to have a better understanding of how to read ‘market signals’ and adjust planning numbers accordingly.
  2. DCLG to commission regular forecasts of housing market to sub-regional level, tied in to Office of Budget Responsibility forecasts, with associated published output and commentary on implications of market prospects for supply, subject to independent expert review and scrutiny.
  3. Mandatory requirement for core housing strategy/numbers to be agreed at Housing Market Area (HMA) level (with reserve power for the Secretary of State to impose).
  4. Create a joint body to address balance of numbers and strategic growth locations between Greater London Authority and the South East/East of England regions (with reserve power for the Secretary of State to impose).
  5. Revise Green Belt policy to encourage boundary revision where demonstrably most sustainable solution for strategic housing growth need.
  6. Set up infrastructure fund to support strategic growth areas, inviting groups of Local Authorities based on functional regions (HMAs) to bid for these resources.
  7. Any devolution of powers and resources to city-region groupings to be contingent on adequate planned housing numbers.
  8. Enhance powers for growth areas to form Local Authority-led land development agencies, potentially in partnership with other major landowners, with reserve Compulsory Purchase Order powers, and revised compensation code whereby initial purchase is at Existing Use Value + fixed amount, but landowner retains share in equity of development as finally realised, after funding of all infrastructure. Where this applies, all surplus public land to be channelled through this agency.
  9. Preferred method of disposal of land for development by LAs or development vehicles to be auction sale under building license, subject to planning brief and specified requirements as to phasing and mix, with freeholds conveyed directly to final purchasers.
  10. Restore ability of Local Authorities to specify mix of affordable housing required under s.106, based on Strategic Housing Market Assessment evidence and subject to reasonable transparent and standardised viability testing (possibly linked to 2 above).

Postscript: The current Government are clearly very concerned about housing supply, and there have been repeated announcements of measures to ‘kick start’ the level of housebuilding activity. They are clearly interested in exploring quite a few of these ideas, including for example Point 9 which is reflected in the announcement in the first week of 2016 of a new initiative on direct commissioning of housing on publicly-owned land. However, it remains to be seen how fully they would feel able to adopt some of these measures, given previous high profile commitments and actions, e.g. abolition of National Housing and Planning Advice Unit in 2010 (points 1.-2.), adoption of ‘localism’ and abolition of regional planning (points 3.-4), manifesto commitment to protect Green Belt (point 5), recent ‘spiking’ of section 106 by allowing ‘Starter Homes’ to count as affordable housing (point 10.). George Osborne’s obsession with deficit-reduction will limit the amount they are willing to commit to measures like 6., and that ideological distaste for public intervention in land markets (as well as lobbying by large landowners and developers) will limit how far they would go on 8. It is unclear why they have become so negative towards housing associations, but a combination of this, negativity towards social housing (as part of ‘welfare’) and lobbying by the developers would make them reluctant to adopt point 10., despite considerable evidence that building more social housing has a positive impact on the amount of private housing that is built.