Nearly ten years ago Kate Barker's
review of housing supply in England estimated that we need to
build 250,000 homes a year to slow house price inflation to the
European average and meet housing need.
In not a single one of the years since then has this target been
met, and the cumulative shortfall has now passed a million. This
week Shelter published 'Solutions for the Housing
Shortage' which analyses the reasons why supply continues to
lag and sets out proposals to boost output to the number
"There is no silver bullet" argues the report - a balanced
approach is needed, containing a number of elements, including more
public spending and steps to tackle structural weaknesses in both
the land and construction markets. But nothing particularly radical
and not much new is proposed - the necessary powers and policy
instruments are mostly already there. The key ingredient missing is
the political will to use them.
Shelter's recommendations include boosting government spending on
affordable housing from the £3 billion approved in the Spending
Round to £12 billion and either simply lifting council debt caps or
taking the more radical step of moving council housing off the
public balance sheet.
A new programme of Garden Cities and New Towns is proposed,
together with green belt flexibility - allowing selected green belt
development matched by equivalent additions to green belt land
elsewhere, backed up with wider use of compulsory purchase powers
and community land auctions to ensure the release of the necessary
land. Steps to encourage self-build and smaller builders are
proposed to reduce the stranglehold on sites and supply currently
held by a few large companies.
Overall, the report makes a convincing argument that reaching the
250,000 target would be a relatively uncomplicated and feasible
objective for any government minded to adopt it. The problem is
that, despite reassurances at this year's CIH Conference that
housing is "right at the top" of the Government's agenda, it is by
no means clear that this Government sees boosting new housing
supply to 250,000 a year as either necessary or desirable, let
alone feasible in the current fiscal climate.
We know that it regards increasing public spending on housing as
incompatible with its deficit reduction strategy. It has rejected
top-down target-driven approaches to planning for housing, leading,
it has been argued, to councils scaling back plans for new
There are also rather tricky political issues involved in signing
up to a national house-building target aimed at reducing house
price increases - which involves over time a redistribution of
wealth from existing owners to other households. If the argument
for investing in housing is to be won, more needs to be done to
spell out the consequences - economic and social - of failing to
grasp this nettle.