A Manifesto For Planning
One of the most hotly debated topics is the chronic shortage of housing - both nationally and locally here in East Anglia. With ongoing demand driving up house prices - let's remember that the population of the country is predicted to rise by 10million over the next 20 years - fewer people today have the chance to buy the own homes. In parallel, the provision of affordable homes continues to decline, causing more families to move to privately rented properties. This pressure is forecast to drive rents up at twice the rate of income. The demand on housing benefit could increase by 125 per cent, adding £20billion of additional pressure to Government budgets.
It is widely recognised that the UK needs to build at least 200,000 new homes per year* to alleviate the level of demand on an insufficient supply of properties. And yet, in 2014 less than 120,000 new homes were completed. With the UK population continuing to grow, it is estimated that barely 20 new homes are being build for every 100,000 people living in the country.
Housing isn't some luxury product that we can live without. It is a basic human need and to my mind it is a fundamental human right to have the opportunity to live in your own home. In fact, 73 per cent of the population agree with this basic principal.**
Current home owners are starting to feel the benefit of the economic upturn with only 22 per cent being concerned about affording their mortgages in 12 months' time. However, almost eight out of ten people believe that it will be harder for their children to buy a home that it was for them.**
Housing growth is commonly referred to as a key indicator of the economy, and we should not forgot some of the additional benefits that come with these. Housing output is expected to grow nationally by almost five per cent between 2015 and 2019 making it a chief driver of economic output, although this varies dramatically region by region.***
In the next five years more than 224,000 construction jobs are also expected to be created, fuelled by increased investment into the infrastructure and housing sectors.***
This is why I'm asking politicians of all political parties to put finding a solution to this issue at the tope of their electoral manifestos. If we don't start to address this immediately, we face the prospect of a generation of young people unable to buy their own homes and a crisis of accommodation. That's without mentioning the totally inadequate supply of retirement homes for people in later life.
Quite simply, we won't have places for people to live.
At the heart of the problem lies the current planning regime that pits developers against communities in an increasingly bitter confrontation. In my experience planning applications for new homes are more often than not resisted by local people with homes who worry about increased traffic and pressure on local services and can see no direct benefit to them of more houses. As a result it takes far too long to get permission to build and our shortage of housing continues.
It doesn't have to be like this. Communities and developers should - in contrast - be united in a common objective to provide homes for local people. The discussion should then be about the details of house type, public open space, design features and service provision, not the principle of whether there should be any houses at all.
As the chairman of the region's largest independent house builder I have every interest in wanting to work in partnership with communities. We need to create a culture of common interest and trust, recognising the need for houses and the importance of building and sustaining communities.
For what it is worth, I would be recommending to our politicians the following five point plan for creating this culture of partnership and solving our housing crisis:
1. Let's make the case nationally - we need to make sure that there is common understanding of the need for housing across the country, so we are all working towards a single agenda.
2. Let's make the case locally - as developers we need to demonstrate that new homes benefit existing communities. We need to make the link between housing growth and community benefit much more explicit. Good quality developments enhance a neighbourhood and, depending upon their size, can bring new facilities and community assets with them. For example, the Suffolk village of Snape has received contributions towards traffic calming measures - a key issue in the village, plus sports, play and recreational facilities as part of one of our developments. In addition, Government needs to ensure that the benefits of growth flow directly to local communities, not through distant local authorities. The provisions in the Localism Act to share more of the proceeds of the new Community Infrastructure Levy with parishes and communities are welcome and should be enhanced.
3. Invest in infrastructure - it is more people, not more homes that create additional traffic and demand for public services. As a country we need to face up to this and invest in our infrastructure. As we build homes for these people, we also need to build schools, roads and health care services. Developers pay their fair share to help with this service provision - Hopkins Homes has paid over £10million in so called Section 106 contributions in recent years, but Government has to do more too. Otherwise local people will quite rightly continue to worry that more homes will be a burden on their community not a welcome addition to the neighbourhood.
4. Insist on quality - there is no excuse for poor quality housing developments. We have a duty to create sustainable developments that benefit both occupiers and local communities. Unfortunately, in some cases the lack of land released for development and the resultant strive for every higher density has resulted in some spectacularly ugly estates that do not blend with their surroundings, where residents live cheek by jowl often without access to outdoor space and where no consideration has been given to quite basic needs such as access to public transport and local amenities and facilities. If we are to create the partnership I aspire too, and build trust with local communities, that has to stop. Good quality design can enhance and complement their surroundings and create attractive developments that communities can be proud of.
5. Speed up the planning process - I would argue for that of course, wouldn't I? But I genuinely believe that if we implement the first four of my points, then a more streamlined planning process will be welcome to all.
Then we really could look forward to a housing revolution - delivering homes that people are proud to live in, enhancing existing communities and creating and sustaining employment opportunities.