The housing white paper represents a big policy shift and contains some bold ideas, but it is just a set of principles until it is delivered
The long awaited, highly trailed, housing white paper has finally been published. It signals an ambition to reframe the emphasis of housing policy away from home ownership as the only solution. Renting and particularly the private rented sector is identified as an important part of the answer to a housing crisis that is now acknowledged to exist.
It is a significant move away from a conservative housing policy that has been a cornerstone of successive administrations since Mrs Thatcher’s home owning democracy of the late 1980s.
It heralds the acceleration of a new relationship between central government and local government, with targets for local plans back on the agenda. Use it or lose it expectations on planning permissions, not completed within two years rather than three, a desire to shake up the housing supply chain by encouraging SMEs and supporting innovation in housing construction.
It heralds the acceleration of a new relationship between central government and local government, with targets for local plans back on the agenda
There are some bold ideas, but there is also some ducking of difficult areas and a few initiatives that have been tried or suggested before, with various degrees of success. Encouragement of new settlements. We’ve been there. How often have we been told they are the future? For years afterwards there has been a genuine belief that it could be made a reality. We are not there yet. The incentives for older residents to downsize was once called the seaside and country homes initiative and supported by the Greater London Council. And the debate on the green belt looks as though it’s been parked in the long grass.
There is encouragement for SME builders and a sideswipe at the largest housebuilders, though little detail on incentives.
And while a white paper is just a strategy and until it is delivered, just a set of principles, these principles speak of a mixed economy of housing providers and housing provision. They include housing associations, local authorities, traditional housebuilders and new entrants. The hope is that this housing minister will stick around a little longer than previous ones and see some of these principles through.
Steve Douglas is a partner at Altair