We need to get the housebuilding market moving again and the government is doing a lot to help. But it’s not just about numbers - we need to build the right kind of homes
Alan Cherry, the late founder of Countryside Properties, didn’t talk about housing “units”. He talked about homes. He didn’t want to cram in so many units per hectare; he wanted to create places people really wanted to settle down in.
It was an unusual mindset back in the eighties, but Alan was passionate about design and quality.
Alan’s Countryside Properties had its headquarters in my constituency and the local press called him “the man who rebuilt Essex”, such was his impact: he was a man with a strong sense of responsibility to his community and genuine empathy for other people. He proved that mixed income developments could work, at a time when other housebuilders just weren’t interested.
Above all, I remember Alan as an attentive listener. He genuinely wanted to hear what people thought. You could often find him at the local supermarket or takeaway, in an animated discussion about what good homes should be.
So last week’s memorial debate was a fitting tribute. For all of us, it was a good moment to take stock. And we all agree on one thing - Britain needs more homes. The fact is that in 2009, the rate of housebuilding hit its lowest point in peacetime in over 80 years. We need to get the housebuilding market moving again. But how?
First, it needs to be driven by incentives. We must get the country building with the support of local communities, rather than riding roughshod over them. Powerful new incentives like the New Homes Bonus and the reformed Community Infrastructure Levy will help communities enjoy the benefits of growth. Give people a reason to say yes to development, and localism goes hand in hand with growth.
Alongside this, we need to change the culture in planning authorities. Our presumption in favour of sustainable development will make saying yes to development the default expectation. The message to developers is if you get it right, if your environmental standards are there, and what you’re proposing works for the community - you can go ahead.
I remember buying my first home and the sense of ownership, pride and independence I felt. I want more young families to have that. The credit crunch turned the mortgage market into a major barrier to home ownership and housing growth. That’s why we announced the FirstBuy scheme to help over 10,000 struggling first-time buyers this year and next.
Finally, we need a housing market that is free of red tape. We’ve scrapped home information packs and I’ve promised by 2015 to deliver an overall reduction in the cost of the regulation that builders face. When it’s right and necessary to regulate, we will do so in an effective and proportionate way. We’ve just announced a tough but realistic definition for zero-carbon homes that paves the way for the green transformation of Britain’s homes, without piling unfair costs on housebuilders.
Housing is the most market-orientated of all my department’s responsibilities. I’m sure Alan would have accepted that all governments have to move with the market. We will work with the industry and with local communities to try to get the homes this country needs built. Homes that aren’t just for today but last a lifetime; homes where people are happy to raise their kids; the kind of homes that Alan was all about.
Alan Cherry debate
The inaugural Alan Cherry debate was held on 17 June in memory of the former Countryside founder and chairman who died in January last year. The debate was attended by an audience of prominent politicians and regeneration specialists including Eric Pickles, who took part in a debate on the Localism agenda with Lord Prescott.
The first Alan Cherry Award for Placemaking was presented at the event to David Ubaka, head of design for Transport for London. The award was judged by the distinguished debating panel including Lord Prescott; John Gummer, Lord Deben; David Lunts of the HCA; and Jim Ward of Savills.
Eric Pickles is secretary of state for communities and local government