Lateral thinking is required to come up with solutions to the housing shortage. All too often, pressure is being put on housebuilders by government targets to simply provide more houses. But it is not just a case of building where there is space but rather building where there is need. Emphasis should be placed on transport connections and community facilities when looking at possible sites to develop, particularly those that are not being used to their full capacity. There is a need to identify where suitable infrastructure exists and develop around these areas to make them viable.
Another problem area that needs to be scrutinised by Barker is the provision of key worker homes. This sector appears to have been rebranded on numerous occasions but can never quite lose the stigma that surrounds it. Perhaps it is time to go back to tied housing, a feudal style concept that requires institutional employers to provide accommodation for their staff.
There are various levels of tied housing; some people pay no rent, or a small rent or receive a smaller salary that takes into account their free housing. Key workers in the education profession, for example, could live on the site of the school they work for and pay rent to their employers. This system of housing would require certain elements of control to ensure that institutional employers were not able to sell housing stock for their own profit. But tied housing would benefit those who need it most and help a sector retain its best professionals. This in turn would benefit the local community.
However, the best solution would be to pay key workers a rate that allowed them flexibility of accommodation rather than relying on government policy to force the private sector to deliver housing that is unaffordable.
Another problem in housing provision is that the sense of community has all but disappeared. Degradation exists in our inner cities because people do not have a sense of ownership and, in turn, responsibility.
Perhaps it is time to go back to tied housing where employers provide accommodation for their staff
One solution could be to offer those who receive financial aid from local authorities the opportunity to pay a percentage of their benefits toward the ownership of the property they live in. The payments could take place over an extended period. This idea would help bind communities because people care more for a property that belongs to them than one they rent. Creating this sense of ownership will promote a sense of pride in one's community.
Planning is an area of housing provision that is certain to inspire heated responses to the Barker review. It is assumed that most housebuilders think of the planning system as a hindrance. However, control elements such as planning are much needed. What is imperative is that there is more clarity, especially where several plans overlap, and greater certainty that applications will be heard within the statutory time limits.
A few forward-thinking companies are attempting to eradicate land supply shortages by generating a more linear supply of land over a 15-year term. In fact, these opportunities are generally heavily brownfield commercial sites that developers are looking to hold and develop through the planning process or for future potential.
Landbanking is an essential tool of the trade and, where developers have billion-pound turnovers, land delivery certainty is required in order to meet shareholder expectations.
Traditional construction methods for delivering housing are being partly blamed for the slow-down in housing completions. One of the proposed solutions, modular or factory-built housing, is being developed by a number of private sector developers and housing associations. However the research and development is still at an early stage so prefab is a more expensive option than traditional methods.
James Moody is director of property consultant DTZ Residential.