In a recent poll conducted for the Observer, 81% of respondents agreed that Britain is in the throes of a housing crisis. Blame is variously laid at the feet of immigration policies, foreign investors, right-to-buy schemes, the buy-to-let boom and developers holding onto land after consents are granted.
Waiting lists for social housing in England still stand at around 1.25 million, despite the impact of the Localism Act enabling councils to strike people off their lists, or refuse new applicants who do not have a local connection. That in itself has put more pressure on housing associations, many of which are struggling to achieve a viable financial model after new government measures enforcing rent reductions and right-to-buy schemes.
However, there are many ways in which councils can get people off the waiting lists and into homes more quickly. When council dwellings are standing void because they need repair or modernisation, this can be done quickly and efficiently under framework agreements. Regular and effective maintenance is also key to keeping dwellings in uninterrupted use. Many people on the lists are elderly, disabled or vulnerable, so concentration on building new supported living homes, or adapting existing dwellings, benefits both councils and occupiers.
The government has now announced that it will step in to directly commission thousands of new dwellings, with a high percentage of affordable homes, on publicly owned land. An additional £1.2 billion is being earmarked to prepare underused brownfield sites for new starter homes.
This is good news for smaller builders and new entrants who are ready to build, but lack the resource or the land. Over the past nine years, there has been a 50% decline in small house builders, with 50% of new homes now provided by the top eight constructors. Another factor that will help to tap the huge potential resource of smaller builders and developers is the Court of Appeal decision restoring government policy that councils should not seek affordable housing contributions from sites of ten homes or fewer. This will enable work to start on many smaller sites that will make an important contribution to enlarging the housing stock as a whole, especially on brownfield sites and in rural areas.