The government needs to act now to have any chance of staving off a housing crisis

Sarah Richardson

The story of Jason Scott and his family is, to many people who are struggling to afford their own home, all too familiar. Lacking space in their social rented property after the birth of their second child 11 years ago, the surveyor and his family moved into private rented accommodation. Since then, even though both parents work, they have been unable to save enough for a deposit, and despite the amount they are paying out in rent each month, have moved through a string of poor standard homes due to the lack of good quality, affordable accommodation available.

With 210,000 new households being formed in England each year, and just 112,000 homes built over 2013-14, the most recent year for which there are statistics, Scott’s situation is typical of the challenge faced by thousands of individuals and families trapped by the nation’s growing housing shortage.

The gap between demand and supply has been a mounting problem for years; but, as the emphasis placed on housing by all main political parties in their general election manifestos suggested, there is now a sense that the country is at a tipping point. Housebuilding may be on the rise again after the recession, but decisive, and potentially radical, action is needed if the country is to stand any chance of staving off the looming crisis - the time for half measures is over.

The Conservatives’ unexpectedly decisive election victory, combined with an improving economy, provides the best opportunity for this to happen that the country has had for years - even if many will question why they haven’t acted with greater urgency before, given their now vanquished coalition partners were hardly fundamental opponents of housebuilding ambition. However, for the new opportunity to be realised - given the lead-in time for delivery of large housing developments - the government needs to act swiftly to put a framework in place that will boost development right from the first months of this parliamentary term.

Although housebuilders’ shares rose sharply with the Conservatives’ victory, the party’s plan for housing is still, at best, worryingly short on detail. With George Osborne having announced he will deliver an emergency Budget on 8 July, Building is renewing calls made in its Agenda 15 campaign for the government to commit now to measures that would boost supply - and cut the time between planning submissions and delivery of homes.

These include setting a clear target for the number of homes to be delivered per year - of at least 200,000 - and, crucially, setting out clear policies that will make that goal achievable. In line with the view of experts across the sector, we are calling for Osborne urgently to provide details on the proposed extension of Help to Buy to 2020, and to adopt measures that will cut the still overly-long time between outline planning consent and delivery by streamlining the process for addressing planning conditions. Above all - and the reason for our emphasis on a target - the government needs to be accountable for delivery on an ongoing basis, not just the next time the country goes to the polls.

Addressing the shortage of housing is, for all those who know one of Britain’s hundreds of thousands of “Jason Scotts”, a necessary priority for the new government. At the same time, it is just one of several key areas where the built environment’s ability to support the country will be at risk if the government does not adopt policies that will better enable a construction industry still clouded by the legacy of recession to increase its capacity and output. The same is true of school provision, modernised transport infrastructure, and secure energy supply. Expanding on the momentum of our Agenda 15 campaign, over the coming weeks Building will examine these challenges in detail, together with the industry’s expert views on how to overcome them, and the potentially crippling consequences of government inaction on the policy framework within which the industry is expected to deliver.

Sarah Richardson, editor