The UK housing crisis is so entrenched that it needs to be put onto a war footing and fought through a cross-party accord, says Jackie Sadek

The housing crisis… there is no silver bullet. That’s rather a tired cliché. But it is a cliché for good reason.  

After years of hand wringing, mainly over lunch – one of the rare perks of age – Peter Bill and I decided to try to DO something about the housing crisis. First, we wrote a book. Not a lot happened. Then we wrote a policy paper for a leading think tank. Not a lot happened.

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Jackie Sadek, joint author (with Peter Bill) of Broken Homes and a former government adviser, recording the Home Truths podcast

Our latest attempt to crack the problem is our podcast “Home Truths” with the estimable Building magazine. This time, our endeavour to move the dial coincided with the calling of a general election. Will anything happen now? Well, we are ever the optimists.   

The podcast was a blast to produce. Peter and I have quite good address books – another of the rare perks of age – and we were able to secure some knowledgeable and very eminent folk from the housing sector to contribute.

Peter Freeman, chair of Homes England, got us off to a flying start with his urbane take. Jennie Daly, chief executive of Taylor Wimpey, gave us the market view. Toby Lloyd, former No 10 housing adviser, was our sensible policy wonk. Darren Rodwell, leader of Barking and Dagenham, gave us a local authority model that speaks to sheer delivery. And Liz Peace – steeped both in Whitehall and in the property sector – gave us the Art of the Possible. All of our contributors were generous with their expertise. 

Some volunteered invaluable insights into their own life stories that had shaped their thinking. All were honest and humorous. And, throughout proceedings, Pete and I had our good-natured spats – as he puts it “Mr Chalk meets Mrs Cheese” – with regular bones of contention being modular (he is against, I am for) and car parking (he is for, I am against).

But we’re mates, so that’s OK. And we enjoy these things. We enjoyed our guests. In fact, it was all thoroughly enjoyable.  And it is not often you get to say that these days. 

So, where did it all get us? Well, we may not have found that silver bullet but most of the strands to a potential solution to the housing crisis can be found in our podcast series, if you care to listen properly.

We found no argument with our central thesis that the housing market is broken. There was no equivocation with the fact that the last time we didn’t have a housing crisis was in the late 1970s, when the state was still directly intervening in housing delivery.

There is an understanding that planning reform may need some attention, but it is no panacea, and, more dangerously, it is a major distraction from developing radical measures to ramp up supply. There is a total acceptance that the problem is dire and that seriously radical solutions must be found.  

What it boils down to is this: collectively we don’t really see much alternative to a wholesale return to building some form of council housing. Even if you call it something else. And, you know, between us all, we could just about see how to do it.

This problem is so entrenched that it needs a cross-party accord

To cut to the chase – and you will need to forgive the slightly reductio characterisation of what is quite a nuanced matter – Darren gave us the live demonstration project of how to deliver from the bottom up, Toby gave us the necessary policy underpinning, Liz suggested a workable top-down financing model and Peter pledged the support and expertise of the government agency for housing.

In our most market-facing moment, Jennie said that Taylor Wimpey would certainly consider building out homes in such a de-risked model (a return to their roots as contractors). This last was seized upon with alacrity by Peter, who rails against nonsensical HMG housing targets, wailing “who is going to build this stuff? The government carries no trowels.”

So… not bad for five podcasts! Even if I say so myself.  

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And now we are going to have a new government. What to say to them? Well, I think we would say we need to go onto a war footing. This problem is so entrenched that it needs a cross-party accord. And before you say that ain’t ever gonna happen, be aware I first heard that idea mooted several months ago by a very senior Conservative politician, albeit in private.

If you believe the pundits, the Labour party can look forward to at least 10 years in government now, so such an approach would pose little risk to them. It would position them as the serious grown-ups in the piece. And, given that that the housing crisis would take at least 10 years to fix, it is very much in the Conservative interest to play ball, as they rebuild their platform. Anybody who knows anything knows that it will need a long-term and considered campaign.  

Nothing short of that will do. Will it happen? Who can say? Depends how serious the new government is about rebuilding our economy.   

Jackie Sadek is the director at Urban Strategies and joint author (with Peter Bill) of Broken Homes and a former government adviser. She chairs the UK Innovation Corridor and is also joint podcast host with Peter Bill of the Home Truths podcast, for Building and Housing Today


Home Truths is a Building Talks series in association with Building and Housing Today. All five episodes of the current series are available on our websites and via the main podcast providers such as Spotify  and Apple.

>> Episode 1: In conversation with Peter Freeman at Homes England

>> Episode 2: In conversation with Jennie Daly at Taylor Wimpey

>> Episode 3: In conversation with Toby Lloyd, former No 10 adviser

>> Episode 4: In conversation with Darren Rodwell

>> Episode 5: In conversation with Liz Peace, former British Property Federation boss