Opinion

Vox pop: The good and the bad in the Housing White Paper

14 February 2017

Julia Park, architect and head of housing research, Levitt Bernstein

If you’ve been expecting a creamy fish pie supper and arrive home to a fishfinger, you’re bound to feel a bit let down. It’s not that the Housing White Paper is bad, it’s more that it fails to live up to its promises.

There are good bits – the acceptance that renting is here to stay; the new Lifetime ISA (with a 25% bonus if you save £4,000); a shorter window between planning approval and starting construction (down from three years to two); support for SMEs and MMC, and the recognition that good design matters.

There are bits that not as bad as they were – the reduced quota for starter homes (halved to 10%) and the resurrection of affordable rent. Bits that would be good if they happen – three-year tenancy agreements, sanctions for landbanking and holding developers to promised build-out rates. And bits that won’t happen without a seismic shift – building a million new homes is the one that springs to mind.

What more should they do? Take some tips from the London mayor (waive the need for viability appraisals in return for 35% affordable housing and establish a “local living rent” equivalent to 1/3 of average gross pay); lift the borrowing cap to allow local authorities to build; rationalise the green belt; put an end to Right to Buy, and don’t sell off public land (because it’s ours) – use it to build genuinely affordable housing that we can feel proud of.

Phil Wade, operations director, First Base

While we welcome the government's attempts to support housing delivery, this week’s White Paper is long on targets and short on substance. 

It is clear that the government is aiming to make the public sector more accountable for housing delivery. Local authorities need to be empowered, but their focus needs to be on long-term sustainable communities, not just short-term target chasing.

The only hope that the government has of achieving these targets is to nurture genuine public-private partnership, focused as much on housing quality as housing numbers. The more sophisticated local authorities already appreciate this.

There is clearly a will to develop, but do we have the skills to build? As a medium-sized developer with a pipeline of over 4,000 homes, we are acutely aware that there is currently a skills shortage in the supply chain. The UK’s exit from the EU looks set to exacerbate this further. The government’s encouragement of modular homes, therefore, makes sense and we fully support this move.

However, it would have been great to see some really practical help and encouragement given to this sector in the form of grants or government-led procurement initiatives.

Overall, this was not the radical overhaul of the housing market we had been led to expect. It is welcome, but the government’s pledge to invest £23bn on infrastructure in the Autumn Statement, if it materialises, will likely have much more impact than this week’s White Paper.”

Suzanne Benson, partner, Trowers & Hamlins

A single Housing White Paper was never going to be broad enough to tackle all of the issues in the UK Housing Market. The complexity of the issues affecting different geographic areas and parts of the market need to be addressed from a number of angles – by both the public and private sectors.

What this White Paper does do however, is set out a framework which is targeted at addressing many of the bigger issues identified as needing improvement – speeding up planning, introducing measures to secure delivery, resetting the conversation so it is wider than just delivery of housing for sale and providing some much needed clarity - and a reduction - on the overall Starter Homes requirements.

Some of the less trailed areas of the White Paper may over time produce some interesting results. The proposal to introduce a new planning category to enable Build to Rent providers to offer their own form of affordable housing will present challenges for a burgeoning sector which has not previously directly dealt with affordable housing.

Quieter measures such as the plan to improve publication of land ownership information, including options over land, is also aimed at going some way to pushing forward development and reducing land banking.

Andrew Jones, practice leader - design, planning & economics, Aecom

With universal acceptance of the need to build more homes, measures outlined in the White Paper should go some way towards delivering housing growth, but it is evident that some of the more transformative measures that were mooted have been dropped.

Initiatives designed to speed up delivery of house building are particularly welcome, including government support for offsite construction. Successful mainstream delivery will depend on building a robust supply chain, creative placemaking and the ability to deliver at volume in complex urban settings.

Reducing the timescales for developers to implement a permission for housing development from three to two years is encouraging, but will not stimulate the shift-change needed. Building a stable supply of homes also requires greater emphasis on long-term strategic planning and supply. Truly tackling the housing crisis requires the sector to look beyond small, incremental increases. 

The omission of a review of the green belt is a missed opportunity. While the original purposes of the green belt are still valid and protection of the most important land must be maintained, there is significant brownfield land and land within walking distance of existing rail stations within the green belt that can make a valuable and sustainable contribution to the supply of new homes and places.”

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