Without the right foundations, 300,000 new homes will simply not get built
When it comes to targets, human nature dictates that we are often drawn to one of two approaches: blind optimism, or relentless pessimism. There’s rarely a middle ground.
And so it is with the chancellor’s confidence that abolishing stamp duty for first-time buyers will deliver a 38 percent increase in annual housing delivery over the next 10 years, which itself remains an unexplained anomaly.
Don’t get me wrong, I welcome a stretch target. But we’re at risk of forgetting some very basic, and very important, facts. We simply don’t have the volumes of labour or the right planning system to deliver such a sea change, at least not overnight and in the coordinated way needed to overcome the current crisis in the housing market. And the longer the uncertainty over the availability of qualified labour persists, the further away from that target we are.
What can be done? Sadly, solving one of these issues is not in itself going to alleviate the problem. Proper, and rapid collaboration between government and the private sector is both urgent and essential. We need to clarify that companies can hire for the long term, from the UK, the EU and elsewhere; we need proper reform of the planning system to unlock land for development in the right places and for the right type of housing; and government must tangibly signal its support for developers, housing associations and others in enabling schemes to come forward, especially while the economic picture remains hazy.
The fact that we are still arguing over what constitutes ‘green belt’ and ‘brown belt’ is illustrative of the problem we face. As Nigel Wilson, chief executive of Legal & General, pointed out earlier this year, if just one percent of green belt (which is really brown belt) land was allocated for development, more than one million houses could be delivered on that area alone.
The chancellor’s target is currently not achievable. But it could be if we get these basic facts right. It is in all of our interests to do so. We cannot afford to waste any more time.