At a housing summit in central London yesterday Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid spoke to representatives from the property sector in his first major speech to this key audience since the publication of the Housing White Paper, Fixing our broken housing market, in February.
The Communities Secretary was speaking at the Home Builders Federation’s Policy 2017 launch event and it’s fair to say he did not pull his punches, both about previous failings by successive governments and those of the sector itself.
Javid’s speech made it abundantly clear that he sees one ‘simple’ cause for a housing market that is ‘undoubtedly broken’. That cause is “not enough houses”. He argued this lack of housing is “hurting British people, it is harming our economy, and it is the biggest barrier to social mobility in our country today.”
He acknowledged the system has not always served the property sector well with enabling development, and that in terms of numbers, new home building has been heading in the wrong direction for decades. He then outlined how the Housing White Paper seeks to address many of the flaws in the planning system that have blocked development in the past, including more objective housing needs assessments, encouraging higher density development, simplifying the plan-making process and getting local authorities to publish registers of suitable brownfield sites to encourage developers of all sizes to submit proposals.
The Secretary of State also highlighted key funding to kick-start more building, including the £2.3 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund announced in the Autumn Statement and the £3 billion Home Building Fund.
Interestingly he made specific reference to the important role that innovative new building techniques have to play in enabling more house-building, including offsite, modular housing being developed by British firms such as SIG Offsite.
But the Secretary of State made it clear that house-builders need to change too, in order to get more homes built more quickly. He said there is ‘no excuse’ for poor quality new-builds that undermine public confidence, or for “pokey, identikit boxes that plague too many developments.” He also fiercely criticised the scandal of “selling newly-built houses on a leasehold basis for no obvious reason.” He reiterated the Conservative mantra about involving local communities – getting local people involved in the planning and design process in order to secure community ‘buy-in’ and reduce delays caused by objections.
In fact ‘fairness’ was a key theme throughout Mr Javid’s speech – creating a fairer planning system and encouraging more SMEs to get building again, ensuring fair practice in the sale of new homes and giving communities a fair chance to help shape development they will live with for years to come.
The difficulty, as ever, is in seeing how Sajid Javid’s ‘fair-play’ approach will pan out in the real world, where planning policy remains complex, securing planning consent remains slow, house prices remain high, and local communities remain wary of new development. Bob the Builder was always able to fix his problems in a 20 minute TV programme. The Secretary of State knows it’s going to take quite a lot longer to fix his.