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Planning for 1.5m homes: What are Labour’s Options for Reform?

Key to Labour’s policy offer is a pledge to build 1.5 million homes during the next parliament. Doing so would be transformative, lowering costs, creating tens of thousands of new jobs, and funding the creation of a new generation of affordable and social houses. 

Increasing housebuilding is easier said than done. Despite a similar target of 300,000 homes a year, the current government is well short of this. Only 232,800 homes were delivered last year, and a downturn is expected as the country’s economic situation worsens. 

Reforming the planning system will be a key plank of achieving this goal, after being identified as the most substantial barrier to delivering new homes in a survey by the Federation of Master Builders. This will not be easy, however, given how complicated the planning system is. 

The problems with the planning system go well beyond the obstacles it presents to building new homes, and it rarely incentivises building high-quality dwellings well-resourced by local infrastructure and amenities. But, in order to achieve its goal of 1.5 million homes, a future Labour government will need to find priority areas to alter in ways which maximise impact while reducing controversy.

Reducing the Burden

The planning system is burdensome for everyone involved. While debate often focuses on the onus on housebuilders, any document filled in by a developer also has to be read by a planning officer, councillors, and locals keen to have an input into developments in their area. 

This is in part due to regulations being duplicated, between national and local requirements, and within the same local authority. There will be a degree of overlap, for instance, between a tree survey, arboriculture impact assessment, and biodiversity survey. But some councils ask developers for all three. 

This can also be due to regulation being in the planning system inappropriately, regardless of how noble its intensions are. For instance, it is currently impossible to build homes in areas with particularly high nutrient pollution – even though new housing contributes to less than 1% of said pollution. 

A root and branch review of the planning system, ensuring that regulations are not duplicated are in the right place, would reduce the burden for everybody involved in planning and speed up the pipeline of new homes.

Standardising Requirements

Similarly, the complexity of the planning map is an obstacle to building new homes. England contains 391 local planning authorities, ranging from Rutland and its 41,381 residents to Birmingham, the largest local authority in Europe. 

Each of these areas will then have subtle differences in regulations required. These can be seen in the ‘planning validation checklist’, a list of planning documents local planning that authorities are required to publish. Research conducted by the Housing Forum has shown that many authorities lack an up-to-date checklist, and of those that did, the number of documents required to build as few as 10 homes could range from 24 to 42. 

Simplifying and standardising requirements between local authorities, and even considering more radical steps like transferring planning powers to county or combined authorities, would reduce local variation, without reducing the quality of regulation.

Supporting Planners

Delays in the planning system are in part caused by capacity issues in local authorities. Only one in ten local authorities have fully staffed planning departments, with 70% reporting difficulties recruiting new planners. This is fuelled by pay disparity between public and private sectors, difficult backlogs, and online abuse – as a result a quarter of planners have left the public sector in the last ten years. 

It is in part due to this that one in five local authorities still lack an up-to-date local plan. 

Reversing this decline in the public sector would speed up the delivery of planning applications, improve the institutional expertise within the planning system, and help local authorities and developers to work together more effectively to deliver locally appropriate schemes.

Repositioning Democratic Input

Much as excessive paperwork makes navigating the planning system difficult for everyone involved, so too does the nature of democratic input frustrate both those seeking to build new homes, and residents looking to have an impact on their local community. 

Currently, locals get most involved in commenting on individual planning applications, which will already have been drawn up in partnership with a developer and a local authority. The fact that 90 percent of planning applications in the UK are approved points to the fact that most of these are a finalised and detailed product. Thus local input is often perfunctory and ineffective, and many can feel that they have little voice in the process. 

Similarly, developers often express concern that plans can either be delayed or cancelled outright by a particularly vocal local campaign, and councillors can often feel pressured by a vocal minority of residents who often little as small as 1 – 3 percent of a local population 

Meanwhile, as Labour’s Planning Commission (2019) notes, engaging at an earlier stage, when councils draw up their local plans, “often made plan making unapproachable and sometimes intimidating for residents”. After all, residents are seldom planners, architects, or contractors: but they contain valuable knowledge about their local area which should be put to use in constructing local plans. 

Simplifying democratic input at the local plan making stage would make it easier for local people to get involved, for councils to focus attention to a single event, while empowering a greater range of voices.  

This is similar to the calls for a ‘zoning’ system, promoted by organisations such as the Centre for Cities. This would bring the UK in line with comparable democracies, by removing the discretionary nature of the planning system, where planning committees decide on individual applications. Instead land would be designated for a certain use, such as ‘housing’, ‘industry’, or ‘commercial use’, and a set of regulations then applied. Developments which followed these regulations would then be automatically approved. 

Countries like New Zealand, and individual cities like Austin in the US changed their planning systems from discretionary ones to zoning systems, and both saw an increase in housebuilding and a comparative decrease in house prices.  

While moving to such a system would require intensive legislation, moving community input upstream in the planning system could be a suitable stepping stone to simplify the democratic process while broadening it out to a wider audience. 

Reforming the planning system is far from an easy process, and successive governments have promised it and failed to deliver. But identifying achievable and high impact goals will be crucial for a future Labour government to speed up the delivery of homes and meet its 1.5 million home goal. 

This is the first part of a 4-part series in what a Labour government can do to meet its 1.5 million homes goal. Stay tuned for future instalments!

Alex Toal is Communications Executive at The Housing Forum, a cross-sector housing membership organisation representing local authorities, housing associations, contractors and a range of other housing sector organisations. Before joining THF, Alex worked at the Institute for Government and Make Votes Matter, and is a ward organiser for Cities of London and Westminster PPC Rachel Blake. Based in Haringey, Alex helps to run his local LGBTQ+ tennis group and volunteers at his local food bank.

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We Need to End National-Grid Lock

There are two existential threats to our country’s future: tackling the climate emergency and fixing Britain’s housing crisis. Future generations will not look kindly on us if we let these two systemic issues run on unresolved for another decade. They might seem like two distinct challenges, but they’re connected by one key piece of infrastructure: the National Grid.

Two Critical Priorities: Housing & Energy

In my hometown of Bracknell, the previous Tory council oversaw anaemic house building. Last year, only 390 houses were built. The situation for social and affordable housing is far worse. From 2017 to 2022, Bracknell Forest built only 8 homes for social rent. Meanwhile, 1,690 families are stuck on the council’s housing waitlist. 1.2 million families are on waiting lists throughout England.

Now, with a Labour council leading Bracknell since the local elections, there is real hope for change. But grappling the housing crisis requires national, as well as local leadership. And with a Tory government crippled by NIMBY activists in its own ranks, it is clear Rishi Sunak has no leadership to give on the issue.

Nationally, Labour has set forth a bold set of proposals to get Britain building, including reforming planning laws and putting an end to so-called “hope value” blocking public procurement.

Energy policy also requires both local and national leadership. Labour has ambitious plans to retrofit and insulate existing housing stock, to make it more energy efficient, and they will create GB Energy, a publicly-owned energy company focused on renewables.

At a local level, it is great to see Labour embracing co-operative and community energy schemes, which will empower communities and drive local economic growth.

Unlocking Grid Capacity

Tackling both climate change and the housing crisis require us to face up to a significant challenge.  The capacity of the National Grid is far too low, and creating new connections takes far too long. Any new house puts increased strain on the electricity grid; only compounded by the transition to electric cars, heat pumps and other green technologies. And new onshore wind farms and solar panels need to be actually connected to the grid if they’re going to help us reach Net Zero by 2050.

John Pettigrew, the Chief Executive of the National Grid, has said that “we will need to build about seven times as much infrastructure in the next seven or eight years than we built in the last 32”. Strategic planners have suggested the grid needs £54 billion of investment to meet green goals.

Housing projects are already being delayed or rejected because of local shortfalls in National Grid connectivity. The National Grid currently operates a first-come-first-served system for connecting new projects, which means any delays have a knock-on effect – and ready-to-go projects are facing years-long delays.

One problem is that expanding the National Grid to build more homes also requires planning permission. And just as house building can attract local controversy, so too can projects to expand the grid. An incoming Labour government needs to be ready for this.

The other major issue is, of course, money. That’s why it’s so welcome to see Labour committing to spend £28 billion on green investment by the mid-point of next parliament. A proportion of that will need to be spent on upgrading the National Grid.

As Keir Starmer said when unveiling Labour’s green agenda, “we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and start building things and run towards the barriers – the planning system, the skills shortages, the investor confidence, the grid.”

Only a Labour Government can show the leadership we need to end a National Grid-lock.


Peter Swallow

Peter Swallow is Chair of Ealing Central and Acton CLP and a researcher at Durham University

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Making the Moral Argument for Housing

Let’s start with first principles: housing is a fundamental human right. A right so central, so  fundamental, that it intersects with all others. An inalienable and essential need enshrined in  moral and natural law – though not yet in the statute books. Without it, all else suffers;  educational outcomes fall, inequality worsens, psychological and physical health  deteriorates, and human potential is capped and even drained. As Hashi Mohamed  beautifully puts in his book A Home of One’s Own, having secure and dignified housing  “allows the mind and soul to wander to more important matters; the growth of one’s  personality, the ability to dream and desire.”1It is the basic human need for shelter, without  which all other needs cannot be meaningfully met. 

We have all seen the figures that illustrate the scale of the problem. Over 100,000  households now in temporary accommodation, 64,940 of those with children. As of the start  of 2023, over 1.2 million households on local authority waiting lists, the true numbers of  those in need likely far higher. And underlying these statistics, the daily human tragedies that  flow endlessly from the national emergency that is the housing crisis. 

As a councillor in an inner-city London borough I have come face-to-face with the  desperation and devastation faced by those in desperate need, as well as the uncertainty  and anxiety of young people with no hope of laying down roots. Like many of us, I have also  personally faced the soul-destroying horror of housing insecurity and eviction – and the  displacement that comes with it. 

If we accept the truly destructive nature of the housing crisis across all metrics, and accept  that housing is a human right, the next question surely must be: will we do whatever is  necessary to fix it? Not for the sake of it, but because this is a matter of social and moral  justice. Holding our principles front of mind and recognising that the housing crisis is not just  a headline, we have no choice but to be bolder. Put simply, we as a Labour movement have  an ethical, not just practical, duty to be fearless in our efforts. 

Firstly, we have to slay some common myths on the progressive side of politics, namely that  we can fix the housing crisis simply by filling vacant homes (whether they belong to overseas  investors or not) and by building solely on brownfield sites in existing urban centres. I know  why these are common arguments – I understand why they are attractive fantasies. We care  deeply about inequality and reject the commodification of housing, recognising the  unsustainability and immorality of the notion of homes lying vacant during a housing crisis,  and we embrace our role as custodians of the environment, preferring to limit the impact of  human existence on nature

But as is often the case, these fantasies are the waking dreams that risk distracting us from  the real work required. The facts are sobering. The UK has the lowest long-term vacancy  rate in Europe, bar Poland, at just 1.1% of the total housing stock– a mere drop in the water. Building to full capacity on all the brownfield sites in the entire country would only  deliver 31% of the homes needed– a significant, but ultimately inadequate, amount. 

While no option should be taken off the table, it is clear these approaches taken in isolation  are not enough. Facing an estimated 4.3 million home deficit, only more radical, progressive  solutions will end the injustice and suffering faced by so many. 

Take the Green Belt, imagined by many as a noble, pristine ring embracing our cities while  in fact acting as a semi-industrial chokehold throttling supply. Here we have an opportunity  to make a radical, and observably true, argument – the Green Belt isn’t really green at all,  and has very little to do with the environment. It does not exist to preserve England’s green  and pleasant land but to restrict urban growth, and is already largely built upon with light  industry and low-density housing. It is estimated we could fill the entire 4.3 million home gap  by just building densely on under 6% of the Green Belt, if taken as the only solution.  Counter-intuitively, this would then have the effect of limiting urban sprawl and allowing us to  preserve and re-wild our actual natural landscapes. 

Or we can look to the related work of architect Russell Curtis, whose research has  concluded that we could provide 1.2 million homes by building solely around rural train  stations, where the transport infrastructure already exists. The knock-on benefits of this for  the economy and reducing reliance on cars are obvious, and would also require less new  infrastructure to be built. 

No argument about solving the housing crisis and fixing supply should ignore the need for  wider planning reform, though, beyond re-designation of the Green Belt and other measures – as long as our planning regime operates on a case-by-case, discretionary model, as laid  out in the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, achieving the levels of supply required may  be prohibitively difficult. Our approach should therefore include a recognition of the need to  overhaul the system as it currently stands and embrace the radicalism that makes us  Labour: when systems are no longer fit for purpose, we build new ones. 

When those outside the Labour movement, or our political opponents, make similar  arguments about acting boldly to fix the housing crisis, they make them largely on the basis  of practical and economic necessity. Our movement has the opportunity, and the  responsibility, to make them with the moral necessity in mind and, while we do not have a  monopoly on morality, we must remember the reason we exist – to redress these injustices. 

It is why the Labour Housing Group and Labour Campaign for Human Rights came together  to clearly say “Housing is a Human Right”, bringing together housing and human rights  practitioners, and why our conference motion calls for housing to be front and centre of the  party’s campaigns. 

The housing crisis is a catastrophe affecting all strata of society; young people forced into  HMOs and limiting environments well into their 30s, unable to flourish as they wish, millions  more of all ages and backgrounds in insecure and undignified housing up and down the  country, not to speak of the thousands experiencing street homelessness.

Failure to fix this problem – and failure to make this argument persuasively – is therefore a  moral failure. The recognition that we must do whatever it takes to end the housing crisis  should be at the front and centre of every debate, every political conversation, and every  policy consideration: not simply to boost economic growth, or to attract younger voters, but  because it is the right thing to do.


Omid Miri

Omid Miri has been a Councillor in Hammersmith & Fulham, and Chair of the Planning Committee, since May 2022. He is passionate about tackling the housing crisis and campaigning for housing as a human right, and particularly interested in re-prioritising social and council housing as a form of tenure.

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Labour’s Plans to Increase Home Ownership & Abolish the Leasehold System

The Labour Party will gather shortly at Liverpool to discuss the National Policy Forum’s report which is likely to form the basis of the manifesto for the next General Election.

Labour is seeking the support of aspirant home owners with proposals to guarantee the deposit of those who can obtain a mortgage. The party is concerned that the number of home owners is falling especially among young people.

The Leadership wants to see the proportion of all households who are home-owners reach 70%. The current rate is 65%. The last time it was 70% was in 2003. This target is therefore ambitious given the decline in wages and is dependent on a growing economy.

Labour will retain the Right to Buy for council tenants, though the discount rate will be reviewed. Council leaders will argue that this policy will not help their efforts to reduce the record numbers of homeless households in temporary accommodation.

Labour supports leasehold reform

The report sets out helpful polices to attract the support of the 4.86 million leaseholders who live in England and Wales. Scotland abolished their leasehold system in 2004.  Many leaseholders live in marginal constituencies.

Leaseholders do not own any bricks and mortar in their homes. They own the right to live in their property for a limited period. Once their lease runs out, they will become mere tenants if they do nothing. Service charges disputes are commonplace. Freeholders can recover their legal costs from leaseholders even if they lose at court. Virtually all the former UK colonies no longer have a leasehold system.

In 2002 Labour introduced the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act. This was designed to replace the leasehold system with commonhold. It failed due to opposition from many vested interests. 

There are only a handful of commonhold sites in England and Wales. Commonhold is not just for flats. It also applies to interdependent buildings with shared facilities and common parts. On the Isle of Shepey in Kent, the owner of a mobile home site gave the land via a commonhold company to the site residents who now manage the site themselves.

The Law Commission’s proposals to replace the feudal leasehold system with the modern commonhold tenure will be implemented in full at minimal cost to public funds. Commonhold will become the default tenure for flats.  Such proposals are very timely as the Government has decided to drop their own plans in this area. The Conservatives will deny that this is linked to nearly 40 % of their donations coming from developers.

Fire Safety

All leaseholders will be protected from the costs of remediating fire safety defects for cladding and non-cladding defects. All dangerous buildings will be identified, registered, and made safe. In September 2021 there were over 1000 unsafe buildings in London alone. The current government still does not know how many blocks are unsafe. The rate of remediation is painfully slow and there are non-qualifying leaseholders who are ineligible for help  under the 2022 Building Safety Act. Such proposals are welcome.  

The report refers to the rate of remediation being accelerated. However, there is no mention of who will pay for such work or how it will be carried out. This area needs to be sharpened up though the financial implications are challenging. 

Flat sales are falling due to the complexities around the Building Safety Act. Some conveyancers  will not act for leaseholders who are forced to sell at a loss at auctions. 

Further work needed

There are other problematic issues for home owners that need addressing. Shared ownership needs to be reformed. How can this be considered as a form of ownership when such residents can be evicted for two months’ worth of rent arrears and lose all any equity that they have built up?  There is currently a Commons Select Committee inquiry into shared ownership. It is likely to be critical.

The estate charges that house owners pay on unadopted private estates to volume builders are controversial. Home owners can lose their homes if they ignore such charges. These are known as fleecehold. The former Labour MP for Bishop Auckland Helen Goodman produced an excellent 10-minute rule Bill in 2017 (see her YouTube video here).  Her Bill is outside the scope of the Law Commission’s work though the  Competition and Market Authority are in the process of investigating such charges.  

The situation for the owners of mobile homes is crying out for reform. They own the property but not the land it sits on. They have to pay 10% commission to the site owner if they wish to sell.

Attitude of Party members

Labour outside Westminster appears at times to have a cultural problem with owner occupied housing. Although leasehold reform has been in nearly all Labour election manifestos since the war, this issue has seldom been discussed at Labour conference. None of the progressive think tanks have produced reports on leasehold reform, though see this report by the Welsh Government. 

One of the reasons for the failure of the 2002 Act was the lack of support outside Parliament. Unfortunately, the work of the leasehold reformers such as the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, the National Leasehold Campaign and Commonhold Now are seldom discussed in Labour circles.

Devolution

Labour will introduce a Take Back Control Act. This will devolve power away from London. It is not clear what the implications are for housing. The NPF envisage that new development corporation will lead in partnership with developers and local councils in the drive for building new homes. Will Sadiq Khan be empowered to require developers to introduce a commonhold scheme as envisaged in previous manifesto? Will “fleecehold residents “be able to require local councils to adopt communal facilities on their estates? 

The NPF report is strong on the need to build more homes. Potential home owners will be attracted to the Labour Party by the thought of a guaranteed deposit. However, doubts remain whether young people can obtain a mortgage when the average property in London costs over £600,000.  Reinvigorating commonhold will attract political support. The Labour leadership needs to provide support to Labour parliamentary candidates on how to campaign on leasehold reform.


Dermot Mckibbin is on the Executive Committee of Labour Housing Group, and will shortly become a member of the new Beckenham & Penge CLP

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The Lost Progressive Potential of Local Plans

What are Local Plans?

Local Plans are the bedrock upon which the entire UK planning system is based. Prepared by local planning authorities (councils) they essentially establish how land should be utilised in a given area. Once agreed, they are used to determine planning applications. 

The current Local Plan system properly emerged with the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act. This implemented for the first time a ‘plan-led’ system whereby anyone wanting to develop land had to first seek planning permission. 

Despite their importance Local Plans are often treated with at best detached apathy and at worst visceral animosity. 

One reason for this is their complexity. Local Plans respond to a myriad of needs. How can enough housing be provided? How can the local economy be stimulated? How can the climate crisis be addressed? Responding to these needs means that they often amount to hundreds of pages of convoluted, Kafkaesque policy.

Reading’s Local Plan is 251 pages long1. Northumberland’s is 404 pages2. Southwark’s is 601 pages3. Most people have neither the time nor willpower to wade through such gargantuan documents. In Dorset less than 2% of the population provided feedback during the recent consultation on their Local Plan4. In Portsmouth less than 1% of the population provided feedback5

A second reason is their association with new housing. Local Plans must identify sites where sufficient homes could be built to meet independently assessed housing needs. Unsurprisingly, people often disagree with the location of these sites. In 2021 more than 8,000 people objected to the housing sites earmarked in Ashfield’s Local Plan6. In 2022 more than 10,000 people objected to the sites earmarked in Hertsmere’s Local Plan7.

‘It begins as a house, an end terrace in this case, but it will not stop there’

– Simon Armitage, Zoom!

The coalescing of these two factors, complexity and an association with new housing, means that despite their importance Local Plans are rarely up to date. Recent research by CPRE found that two thirds of Local plans are out of date8.

Why is the lack of up to date Local Plans a problem?

The most obvious impact is upon housing. Local Plans provide a degree of certainty as to where new housing is permitted. If they are not up to date this certainty is limited, meaning that housebuilders may be less willing to submit planning applications. Between October and December 2022 the number of planning applications received fell by 13% to 93,000 versus the same quarter in 20219. This figure is clearly insufficient given the scale of the UK’s housing crisis. A recent Centre for Cities report suggested that compared to other European countries the UK has a deficit of 4.3 million homes10.

However the impact of out of date Local Plans stretches beyond housing. As the National Planning Policy Framework states, Local Plans should not only address housing needs but also ‘other economic, social and environmental priorities’11. This alludes to the progressive potential of Local Plans.

‘The urban landscape, among its many roles, is also something to be seen, to be remembered, and to delight in’

– Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City

This progressive potential has existed throughout history. Ebenezer Howard in the nineteenth century introduced the idea of garden cities, marrying the positive elements of both town and country. He argued that ‘human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together’12. Patrick Abercrombie’s 1940s plan for London, based around the idea of neighbourhood units, is unmatched in its extensive scope. He hoped to allow for ‘a greater mingling of the different groups of London’s society’13. Richard Llewelyn-Davies, appointed in the 1960s to plan Milton Keynes, welded the theory of garden cities with the American grid system. The aspiration was to provide freedom with which ‘the people who come after us [can] plan and build a future’14.

If Local Plans are not up to date this progressive potential cannot be realised.

What is to be done?

How could a Labour government tackle the problems caused by a dearth of up to date Local Plans?

There have already been substantial movements in relation to the housing crisis. A plethora of policy interventions from the left have suggested ways to build more homes and counteract the drag caused by out of date Local Plans. These have begun filtering through to Labour’s leadership. Starmer recently announced his intention to back ‘the builders, not the blockers’15. He has detailed plans to restore housing targets, allow more green belt development and empower councils to purchase land without factoring in the ‘hope value’16.

Unfortunately there have not yet been similar movements in relation to the progressive potential of Local Plans. 

The housing crisis is not the only crisis afflicting the UK. Inflation sits at 8.7%17. GDP growth this year is forecast to be just 0.4%18. On current trajectories the UK will not meet net zero by 205019. After thirteen years of Conservative rule the public sphere is decimated, with loneliness rising and community engagement falling20.

Labour’s recognition of the housing crisis is positive. But it is not enough. 

Howard, Abercrombie and Llewelyn-Davies’ plans were not perfect. Howard’s conception of town size limits, Abercrombie’s rigid zoning system and Llewelyn-Davies’ prioritisation of car transport are all now obsolete.

Nevertheless it is not the plans themselves which are significant but the way in which the plans were conceptualised. All three individuals recognised the progressive potential of plans and in addition to building homes they all strove to tackle other crises. Howard hoped to reconnect people with nature. Abercrombie sought an entire societal transformation post-WW2. Llewelyn-Davies attempted to resolve the perceived failures of earlier new towns, such as Stevenage and Harlow.  

This recognition of the progressive potential of Local Plans, and a desire to use them as a way of addressing crises, should be adopted by Labour. 

Firstly, Labour should seek to change the narrative surrounding Local Plans. Steps have been taken in this direction. Labour openly discuss planning reform and expound the benefits of house building. They should go further. It is inadmissible that less than 2% of the population engage with Local Plans given their importance to the planning system and their progressive potential. 

Secondly, rather than simply encouraging and cajoling councils to build more homes Labour should encourage and demand councils, via their Local Plans, to build a better society. Local Plans shape the physical world in which we live. Consequently there is a huge opportunity for them to corroborate Labour’s policy agenda. This opportunity cannot be missed simply because council’s lack up to date Local Plans. 

A Labour government is potentially less than a year away. The UK faces multiple crises. Local Plans are critically important and, as demonstrated throughout history, have a remarkable progressive potential. By embracing this importance and progressive potential Labour could use Local Plans as a crucial component in their attempts at solving crises and moving the UK forward. 

Sean Eke works in housing policy and public affairs for The Terrapin Group. He is a Labour member in Tower Hamlets.

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Let’s Improve Planning, Let’s Abolish It!

I’m the managing director of Positive Homes. Since 2016 we’ve developed five little sites – the last of which won ‘Development of the Year’ at the 2021 Offsite Awards. Everything we’ve done is one version or another of ‘modern methods of construction’ (MMC), and highly energy efficient.

So Red Brick said, how about 1,200 words on what it’s like to be a (new-ish) small housing developer. Well, blimey. Where to start?

How about small developers built a quarter of new homes in the late 1980s. Now it’s 1 in 12. And SME developers always have higher per unit costs. Even worse: At least 99% of all the new homes built since at least 2008 are obsolete the moment their buyers first step over the threshold. That’s because only 1% of new homes are ‘A’ rated for energy efficiency (including all of ours).And ‘A’ is the least they need to be, to avoid a hefty retrofit bill to make homes ‘net zero’ carbon.

Both of these facts are the inevitable consequence of a dysfunctional planning system, that has created an oligopoly of large companies. Hardly a surprise that 94% of small developers say planning is their biggest problem. Why? Because the system makes something not scarce at all (land) into something beyond valuable, by restricting its supply.

Some more facts: According to Savills, we consistently lose around 26,000 hectares of agricultural land a year. Which sounds like a lot – except we have more than 18 MILLION hectares of farmland, and only 6% of the country is actually built on. So we aren’t running out of land any time in, oh, the next several centuries!

Land use is a choice. But it’s a choice we aren’t allowed to make as a society, because it’s been hived off to a group of anonymous, over-powerful ‘planners’. The public are treated like patronised children, being told what’s good for them. Hardly surprising then, that people act accordingly and kick off when it feels like things are being done to them, not with them. There are people from across the political spectrum fighting to stop new homes. We call them NIMBYs, rather patronisingly. But surely these are just reasonable people not liking the concreting over of the precious countryside?

What a mess. So now for the seemingly counterintuitive leap: The best way to get better results – that benefit the whole community – is to abolish the planning system as we know it. Huh?

We need more affordable homes (of all tenures). We need better built, more energy efficient homes. We need better use of existing buildings. We need a resurgence of smaller developers to bring choice to the market and drive innovation. And we need to protect and enhance the environment.

What prevents that happening? Land use restrictions. By preventing the productive use of something we have in vast abundance, we do nothing other than make our society poorer (house price inflation is a mirage). Instead, we would rather blame the big builders for being ‘too successful’, than acknowledge how the current planning system distorts the market. If land is ‘scarce’ and therefore expensive, there’s obviously less money for environmental improvements/ bigger rooms/ better built homes.

So let’s try a different tack: Let’s abolish planning. (Specifically, the post war planning system, and all its evolutions – yes, including the green belt). But wouldn’t scrapping the planning system produce some sort of mass free for all? Actually no –

because there are numerous essential protections and provisions in place that wouldn’t disappear.

First, you need some guiding principles. So how about the Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Article 1, Protection of Property (humour me)*:

“Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.”

Or, in other words if it’s my land, I should have the right to do whatever I want with it – the ‘peaceful enjoyment’ of my property, providing it doesn’t affect my neighbours’ ‘peaceful enjoyment’ of their property.

From that, you can set (the smallest necessary number of) questions which developers need to answer. And if the answers are right, then there’s nothing to stop you getting building.   Or is there? Actually there’s rather a lot. We need answers to questions like:

  1. Could the highway network handle the extra traffic?
  2. Can the local electricity supply cope with the extra demand? (Especially with electric cars and heat pumps coming in etc)
  3. Does the land flood? Could this be overcome?
  4. Can the water supply and sewer systems cope?
  5. Will every home be ‘net zero’ carbon?
  6. What about local school places? The local GP? Biodiversity?

But hang on – it can’t just be as simple and easy as that can it? If I can successfully answer everything positively, then I can just build? No site identification in the takes-forever-local-plan? No months and years spent on a subsequent, expensive application process? Yes, it really is that simple, with one condition – that additional question I mentioned: 

7. ‘Does the scheme meet the local design code?’

One of former Housing Minister Robert Jenrick’s most interesting reform proposal of 2021 was the idea of local codes, written by residents to recognise what makes their communities great. New housing boss Michael Gove has taken this on by proposing street by street design code referendums.For me, these are a logical extension of neighbourhood plans which, if done right, encourage the voices of the vast majority who don’t get involved in the current system.

Where I live, our village plan process involved a huge number of local people making positive contributions. That included identifying potential sites, along with the type and quality of homes that should be built there. There are now 700 homes under construction, and all the developers embraced the village’s requirements in their designs with minimum fuss.

Is it really so wrong so say we should trust local people to know what’s best for their communities? Most people are capable of weighing up competing priorities to arrive at a sensible, democratic outcome that benefits everyone. Or would we rather continue the ‘who shouts the loudest’ moanathon as the balance to the anonymous planners, who think they know best for your community?

Instead, let’s replace the centralised planning system with….. you and me: Human beings who want the best for their children and their community. Hopelessly optimistic?

Well it happened in Tottenham just recently. The council’s role? To facilitate the development of a design code that local people wanted and needed – and to then get out of the way and let them get on with it. Why wouldn’t you want that where you live too?

(PS: I started writing this when Housing Minister Robert Jenrick was proposing some highly sensible reforms to the planning process. I finished it with Michael Gove fundamentally abandoning the zoning model – while the House of Lords says we need action to support smaller developers and build more homes. And we wonder why nothing ever gets done around here!)

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Martin Valentine</span></strong>
Martin Valentine

Martin is the Managing Director of Positive Homes.

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How scrolling through ‘Nextdoor’ made me a YIMBY

A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through Nextdoor, an app and social media platform for neighbours to connect and share information based on their location. For those unfamiliar with this, Nextdoor is probably best described as Facebook residents’ groups gone wild. Not my favourite place to be on the internet, but I’ve only recently moved into my current area of London and I’m nosy.

There was the usual fare. A mixture of missing animals, requests for decorators, and the occasional whinge about closed roads. I usually scroll past without a second thought. However, on this occasion I saw something that gave me pause for thought. A headline in bold and all caps read:

“6 STOREY BUILDING WITH NO PARKING MUSWELL HILL RD AT JUNCTION WITH WOODSIDE AVE”

No parking? Oh the horror!

I can’t say it was sympathy that made me pay attention.

I read on. It claimed the development would cause a “parking crisis” if allowed to go ahead. Fourteen car parking spaces would be lost, it went on to state. Furthermore, the planned buildings were “atrocious” and there was the classic objection of being “out of keeping with the area”.

And then, the final nail in the coffin for me was a comment that read “it is for social housing, so a good cause, but current plans ignore local impact”. The author might as well have literally used the words:

“Not In My Backyard’ or NIMBY for short.

It was this bit that really enraged me. I work as a Caseworker for two Members of Parliament in two London Boroughs. My job is trying to help people who are so desperate, who have tried every other option, that their last resort is to seek help from their MP. One of the biggest and most frequent issues by far is housing.

Now, I have many friends who know a lot about housing policy. I know people who look at the data and statistics in great detail, and who engage in debates with people about why most people my age will never be able to own property. I am not one of these experts. I have no idea about the detail.

But what I do know is that we simply do not have enough affordable places to live. I have dealt with too many people who are living in terrible conditions, properties in serious disrepair. I am sick and tired of telling people that they will have to use their living room as a bedroom, because they simply don’t have as great a housing ‘need’ as other people.

Every single person deserves a safe, warm and comfortable place to live. That should not be a controversial statement. Yet we’ve reached such a shortage that local authorities are put in the terrible position of having to tell families that there’s a waiting time of over 15 years for a property with enough bedrooms for their children.

Of course, unsuitable accommodation is only one issue. How can children focus on their schoolwork when they have no quiet place to study; when the block that they live in is a hotspot for anti-social behaviour because the front door is regularly damaged? How can anyone build a life in one place when their ceiling suddenly caves in and they have to be moved to temporary accommodation on the other side of the city?

Housing is more than just a place to sleep. It’s a place to live, a base from which to take advantage of opportunities. It should not be a luxury but sometimes, especially doing the work I do, it feels like it is.

It is for these reasons why I found it so enraging to see this kind of NIMBYism on my local Nextdoor social network. Social housing is great. But…not here. My car goes here.

I had a look at the plans for myself. 41 new properties, 32 of them let at social rent levels. 32! I couldn’t believe that so many new council properties might be built only an 8-minute drive from my house. The design didn’t look too bad, certainly not as jarring, and different as some blocks I’ve seen. Nor what I would describe as out of keeping with the area.

As for the parking, the plans included five wheelchair-accessible spaces. That was my last possible worry alleviated. I went straight to my council’s planning website, hoping I wasn’t too late, and wrote a comment informing the authority I support application “HGY/2021/2727”.

I’d never done this before, engaged with the planning process. As a 23-year-old renter, I’d never stayed long enough in one place to feel part of a community, the kind of person who should comment on these things. But this time I did.

To be honest, and without any research to back this up, I have to say that the entire process felt loaded towards objections. I remember being given several easy options to click for issues with the plans, but not very much at all in favour.

I wrote something short about the need for good social housing, with a reminder about the need to reduce private car journeys for good measure and submitted. Mine was the first comment in favour.

After a few YIMBYs (‘Yes In My Back Yard’ – those in the pro-housing movement in contrast and in opposition to the NIMBYs) I know spread the word, the application now sits with five supporting comments. And over 170 objections. Now, I’d like to think that more than five people in my borough would be supportive of this scheme, but the planning process does not seem set up to hear from them. Planning is too often associated with a ‘bad’ thing that must be fought, rather than a way for local residents to express what they want in their area.

At the time of writing, no decision has been made on this development. I haven’t got my hopes up, if I’m honest. NIMBYs are very well organised, and some political parties feed the beast as a way to win support. But if I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s that I need to speak up more. I’ll be checking the Major Developments of my council’s planning website more often from now on. And hope other supporters of new housing do the same.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Hollie Wickens</span></strong>
Hollie Wickens

Hollie is on the Executive Committee of the Young Fabians and currently works as a case worker for Wes Streeting MP and Sarah Jones MP.

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Multi-coloured walls?

Politicians may be missing the point when they reference red or blue election walls. Should they instead be focusing on multi-coloured walls, and the real walls of real houses? 

The Community Planning Alliance map[1], was launched in March 2021, already includes 525 active planning campaign groups. It is a clear indicator that all is not well at grassroots level in our communities across all areas of the country.  The planning system is potentially facing a popular revolt.  

Community Planning Alliance , Campaign Map

Until now, those groups were on their own – yet the battles they are fighting are very similar.  These campaigners never thought they would be campaigners, most wish they did not have to be, and some, like me, have become full-time campaigners.

Why?

Local communities face many problems…  Councils are, on the whole, disinterested in residents’ views, or even obstructive.   Developers call the shots, targeting areas with no five-year housing supply, and regularly reneging on promises of affordable housing, using the viability loophole.  (What other industry is guaranteed a profit of 15-20% anyway?).  

Trust in the system is virtually non-existent.  This, from a report by Grosvenor[2] in 2019 says it all:

“This year, we conducted the largest ever canvassing of public trust in placemaking in the UK, finding that just 2% of the public trust developers and only 7% trust local authorities when it comes to planning for large-scale development.

The research also unpicks the drivers of this lack of trust − the biggest being the perception that developers only care about making or saving money, with 75% of respondents identifying this as a reason for their lack of trust.”

Green space, countryside, hedgerows, clean air, rivers and streams, are all at risk in the relentless drive to meet government’s 300,000 pa housing target, deliver its roads programmes, and even its renewable energy targets.   Never has land been under so much pressure, from providing the food that we eat, to use for housing and commercial development, biofuels, off-setting and tree-planting.  

And, of all those pressures, it is the high house-building targets shared by all political parties which are causing the most controversy.  For years, the populist line we have all been fed is that to solve the housing crisis, we need to just build more houses.   

Three misunderstood points about the ‘housing crisis’

  • The 300,000-homes per annum target is based on out-of-date statistics, and population growth is slowing dramatically.  Local level data has been found to overstate population growth in around 50 cities and towns.
  • Housing targets do nothing to address real affordability or solve the housing market problems.  Housing waiting lists remain stubbornly high, chiefly because very few social houses are being built – only 6,566 last year – and more are being sold off or demolished each year than built.  Then there’s long term empty homes and the holiday or second home problem, all of which are housing stock unavailable to people who need homes. 
  • Developers release new properties into the market when it does not depress prices. If prices start to fall, they will slow new build supply.

So, you might get a shiny new housing estate at the edge of your town or village, but it will be car-dependent and many of the properties will be unaffordable to your children. That’s even if they are described as ‘affordable’, which is actually only a 20% reduction off market price.   

That’s why the Community Planning Alliance campaigns for three solutions :

  1. Housing policies that address need, based on accurate and up-to-date, bottom-up local household projections, ensuring that the housing delivered is truly affordable (and based on local wages rather than discount to market value).  We support Shelter’s campaign for social housing, and we support the campaign of Empty Homes, to ensure that our existing housing stock is far better used.
  2. Enhanced community participation where residents can really shape their future with their elected councils, not, as now, have planning imposed on them.   We argue for a process of ‘engage, deliberate, decide’, instead of the current ‘decide, announce, defend’.  There needs to be a rebuilding of trust in the system and to start to do that, there needs to be real debate at the start of local plan-making so that issues and concerns are addressed. 

Statements of Community Involvement need to be more accessible and improved, to include, for example, minimum standards such as Gunning Principles[3] or the seven best practice principles of the Consultation Institute[4], which ensure that consultations are held when decisions have not already been made, that there is sufficient information available for stakeholders to respond, sufficient time for responses and that responses are actually taken into account.    We also call for Local Plan Votes, in the same way that Neighbourhood Plans are subject to a referendum. 

3. Taking better care of our precious environment.  The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world and the recent Natural History Museum report in advance of COP26 noted[5] that we have led the way in the destruction of the natural environment.  Build, build, build at all cost is not acceptable, nor is token environmental mitigation. 

If each of the 525 groups on the map were to count only 1,000 supporters (and we know that some have many, many more, some as many as 10,000), that’s over half a million people active in the planning and local political system.    What will be the impact if each of those groups decides to put up independent candidates in local elections?  There is potential for a re-shaping of the political order.  It is a multi-coloured, grassroots wall that government and opposition should heed.  

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Rosie Pearson</span></strong>
Rosie Pearson

Rosie is Chairman of the Community Planning Alliance.

The Community Planning Alliance was founded in March 2021, with an interactive map, on which 525 separate groups campaigning against inappropriate development across the UK have now self-listed.  The map has been viewed 183,000 times and we have 1,800 members of our Facebook group. 

Contact:   [email protected] 
Interim website:  https://grassrootscampaigns.weebly.com/


[1] Community Planning Alliance: grassroots map (google.com)

[2] Grosvenor – Grosvenor Britain & Ireland addresses lack of trust in UK developers & planning system

[3] The Gunning Principles.pdf (local.gov.uk)

[4] The Consultation Charter – The 7 Best Practice Principles — The Consultation Institute

[5]UK has ‘led the world’ in destroying the natural environment | Natural History Museum (nhm.ac.uk)

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Wealth Inequality Starts at Home

Housing wealth inequality is a key driver in the reduction of social mobility.

Every child deserves a chance of economic success, no matter what their background. In England inheritance has become an ever-growing share of national income since the 1970s. It is these inheritances that are to blame for increasing wealth inequality between those with richer and poorer parents. We know there are substantial inequalities in the distribution of housing wealth in Britain. Often related to social class an income.

Sadly, stringent restrictions on new housing supply effectively limit the number of workers who can access the opportunities to create this wealth.

This article explores to what extent attempts to reduce housing wealth inequality can tackle these issues and help win Labour soft Tory votes?

Neighbourhood factors and wealth distribution make or break upward mobility

We know from studies in the United States that if a child moves to a wealthier neighbourhood, it increases the likelihood that the child would go to college. It also increases earnings on average by over 30% by the time they reached their mid-20s.  We do not know exactly what the causal factor is in these studies, whether it be going to better schools or engaging with families with higher socio-economic status. But what is clear is that keeping people in places where earnings and job opportunities are not as good hampers social mobility and exacerbates wealth inequality.

Living in England means parental wealth is distributed extremely unequally. One fifth of people born in the 1980s have parents with wealth ‘per-heir’ of less than £10,000. Yet a quarter of people have per-heir parental wealth of £300,000 or more, while one in ten have £530,000 or more. Education and region are strong predictors of parental wealth. Children of Londoners have parents with over twice as much wealth, on average, as those with parents living in the North East such as my own.

Land use regulation is linked to house price increases, restricts the movement of labour, and is a causal factor of rising wealth inequality

It goes without saying policies that successfully redistribute these inheritances would have large effects on inequality and social mobility for later-born generations. The OECD recognises that land use determines health, environmental, social and economic outcomes. Arguing that rising inequality in recent decades is explained by “rising land and property prices”.

Even small changes in valuations of land and property can have major consequences on the distribution of wealth.  Meanwhile we know increases in land and property prices tend to benefit older and wealthier households. This often comes at the expense of younger and poorer households.

For most of the 20th century workers moved to areas where new industry and opportunities were emerging, with farmers and the like moving from rural settings to cities. In the Great Migration of the United States some six million African-American workers left the South for factory jobs in cities like Chicago.

Yet when housing supply is highly restrictively regulated in certain areas, house prices are higher and population growth is smaller relative to the level of demand. Professor Edward Glaeser of Harvard University and Professor Joseph Gyourko of Wharton Business school make this argument. It is this tight regulation of land markets, often in a country’s most productive places, that leads labour to locate in places where wages and prices are lower.

NIMBYism and stringent restrictions on building new housing holds back the economy, harms workers, and hampers social mobility

In turn reducing a country’s overall economic output in the process. In arguably the single most influential article ever published on housing regulation, Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti’s “Housing Constraints and Spatial Misallocation”  determines such these restrictions that have held by the US economy by over 36% of Gross Domestic Product between 1964 and 2009.

The rise of the property-rights revolution that is “Not In My Back Yard” has reduced the construction of new homes tremendously. In particular where the economy has been strongest and most productive. This is not just an American phenomenon. In England we know the impact of supply constraints have a substantive impact on house prices. A fact we cannot choose to ignore.

The Social Mobility Commission released it’s “State of the nation 2021: Social mobility and the pandemic report” earlier this year in July 2021. It acknowledges that recent trends have shown wealthier families increasing levels of second home ownership and an apparent increase in intergenerational wealth transmission.

Its own findings highlight “as inheritance of these houses comes into play, we will see stark rises in inequalities”. The increasing sizes of inheritances received by those from wealthier backgrounds sets to limit the prospects of upward mobility for those from poorer backgrounds.

Labour needs to ask itself: does it care more about the preservation of housing wealth or the affordability of housing

As Michael Gove starts his new role as the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities we must look back to his views on the matter. For example, he acknowledges in his 2013 Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture that “access to home ownership has become the preserve of those with family wealth”.  In England, with reference to superstar cities like London, we know that two-thirds of house price versus rent increases between 1997 and 2018 can be explained by labour demand shocks and supply constraints.

A strong labour market is one a full employment and where employers must compete for workers. This makes an area more desirable to potential migrants and increases one’s willingness to pay for housing in an area. If the Labour Party is to be the party for labour, it must understand its role alongside supply constraints.

This means finding ways to allow labour to go to move to where the jobs are. We currently limit the number of workers who have access to such high productivity. But this is why we must build houses there to allow more workers to create wealth of their own.

Labour voters should care more about housing affordability than protecting housing wealth

Interestingly, Labour Party voters feature as an instrument in research methods to identify planning restrictiveness. On average, voters of the Labour Party have below-average incomes and housing wealth. Thus, it is expected that we should care less about the protection of housing wealth. Instead more about the affordability of housing.

Campaigners are fighting for planning reform to make housing more affordable

Sadly, in England we have seen the housing wealth preservers successfully lobby Government into submission. This has come much to the horror of campaigners for affordable house prices. Director of Priced Out, Anya Martin, said:

“We are horrified that Government is u-turning on planning reforms.”

“Renters have faced decades of rising costs because of our failure to build enough homes, and our planning system is at the heart of this failure.”

Priced Out finds itself alongside the National Federation of Builders. Who also have cried out they won’t forgive Conservative backbenchers for derailing the planning proposals. To note, smaller builders used to deliver 40% of homes during the 1980s, but now that figure is just 12%. This is in large part blamed on the current systems barriers to entry.

While some on the left deem the reforms a “ferocious attack on democracy”, they find themselves standing shoulder to shoulder with the wealth preservation lobby of some of the most affluent areas of the country.

Maidenhead, where the house price to earnings ratio is 12.7x, see its MP Theresa May having led the Tory revolt against planning reforms. Theresa Villiers MP for Chipping Barnet, where the household income needed to buy is £140,000, railed against the alleged reduction of democratic involvement in the planning system.

Both of whom see the ability to veto new homes in their local areas as the holy grail. Sadly, ignoring the fact local plans are politically led community consulted processes in themselves.

Labour needs to think about how they can win Tory safe seats like the Isle of Wight

Other Tory backbench MPs, such as Isle of Wight’s Bob Seely, have vociferously made the case against the “planning revolutionaries”. He represents an area with one of the worst levels of child poverty in the South East. Boasting below average incomes and weak productivity.

Average disposable household income on the Isle of Wight languishes below the UK average at £18,366 (-13% lower). The constituency has 2,149 households on its social housing waiting list. You would think with such demographics it would present itself as a target Labour seat for Keir Starmer.

Yet the Isle of Wight boasts a Tory majority of over 21,000 votes. Labour, being the party of tackling wealth inequality, needs to think about how people like Bob are effectively challenged. Last time Labour ever came close to winning Bob’s seat was in 1945. The year the Attlee government put housebuilding at the heart of its agenda.

These questions come at a time where Labour recognises the need to win Tory voters. Director of Progressive Britain, Nathan Yeowell, says “Labour must be ruthless in going after soft Tory voters if it wants a swift return to national government”. Perhaps revised planning reform is Labour’s chance to show just how ruthless it can be. After all the Tories lost their majority of the council in the Isle of Wight in May this year.

Backbench Tory MPs block homes to preserve wealth off the backs of working people

The case of Bob Seely epitomizes how wealth preservers hamper housebuilding and damage equality of opportunity for his constituents. The wealth preservation lobby on the Isle of Wight are challenging the housing targets set for it by Government, with Bob Seely at the helm.

There are concerns about how the island will handle the additional 400 new homes per year. Most of which arising from the latest housing need calculation. This comes on top of the 640 calculated using the meagre standard method. Shockingly, the Isle of Wight has a price-to-earnings ratio of over 8x the average income. But this bears no relevance to the Tory preservation lobby, no doubt as they directly benefit.

Construction provides jobs, wages, and keeps income in the community. It improves the local economy as workers employed on each project have wages to pass onto other local businesses. The Isle of Wight is crying out for such opportunities. But those hell bent on preserving wealth continue to deny them the opportunity.

But the issue goes much further than the island itself. For example, the ONS states that those living in neighbouring Central Hampshire have an average annual disposal income of  £26,302 (+24.6% higher than the UK average).

For those looking across the water for opportunities from the Isle of Wight the outlook is bleak. New Forest District Council, next to the Isle of Wight, is only delivering half as many homes as it needs. In effect pricing out poor islanders who may wish to move to this more productive part of the country.

Backing meaningful planning reform means creating more opportunities for workers. Only then will wealth become redistributed more evenly.

Changes to land use regulations can form part of the biggest redistribution of wealth under a Labour government

Historically, local economic booms matched with local building booms. Prior to 1946 building was lightly regulated and housing was allowed to be built in areas of high demand. For example, there were 80,000 new build homes created in London in a single year of 1930 alone. Over 2.5x the net number of new homes delivered in 2017/18. A year that marked a decade long high, mostly by the private sector subsidised by government.

Source: https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/housing_in_london_2019.pdf

We know extensive restrictions on land use and building leads to higher house prices, rather than more homes and workers. If Labour is to be once again the party of the worker, it must deliver more homes. People used to move from poor places to richer places. However, due to restrictive land use regulations this pattern is on the decline.

We must allow the population to seek work in wealthier places. These are places where demand is strong and productivity is high. In doing so we will avoid unequal mobility and poverty traps created by a lack of new housing.

We must counter the NIMBY property-rights revolution to improve prosperity for all – and say ‘Yes In My Back Yard’

For constituencies like Bob’s to prosper, we must tackle the misallocation of labour. This means allowing workers to cross the Solent to the New Forest West and building more homes. While wealth inequality starts at home, it ends with allowing others to access creating that wealth of their own.

Thus, Labour needs to present the country with a vision for prosperity. It must do this by challenging the NIMBY property-rights revolution. One steeped in a world of draconian regulation, high prices, and ever more entrenching wealth inequality. In allowing more families to build wealth through the property owning democracy, it can create one that will become less unequal.

Labour must focus on improving opportunities for the workforce through land regulation. By redistributing wealth more fairly through building more homes in high demand areas it can achieve this. After all we know that data on wages shows big cities do bring prosperity to their wider areas.

The problem is they just aren’t generating enough of it.

By moving to “Yes In My Back Yard” (YIMBY) Labour can tackle wealth inequality and become once again the party of aspiration. Equipped with this vision it will can attract soft Tory voters, while at the same time putting labour back at the core of its policy-making.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Christopher Worrall</span></strong>
Christopher Worrall

Chris is the Editor of Red Brick blog and sits on the Labour Housing Group Executive Committee.

He currently is Chair of Poplar and Limehouse CLP, co-hosts the Priced Out podcast and is the Local Government and Housing Member Policy group lead for the Fabian Society.

He writes in a personal capacity.

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How do we reset the housing market?

England’s housing system has failed. We need to press the reset button on housing – let’s start with planning.

Rampant house price inflation. Hundreds of thousands of people trapped in unsafe buildings. Tens of thousands of families made homeless during a global pandemic. Our housing system is broken.

You would think given the state of things, that fundamental reform of housing would be top of the political agenda and an obvious vote winner. Yet this isn’t the case and we’ve seen no substantive policy action in decades, with the supply of new homes per year now well below the housebuilding highs of the  1960s and 1970s. Despite being badly needed, the popularity of the ‘not in my backyard’ mantra has made housing reform politically untenable, with devastating consequences.

This problem is most obvious at the local level. While many voters are often sympathetic to the problems of housing affordability and homelessness, they too often oppose the construction of new homes, including affordable homes. Building more homes would help tackle such problems by directly increasing the supply of affordable homes and expanding the number of housing options available to people more generally.

England’s housing crisis is a product of multiple local housing crises. In many of the areas where opposition to new homes is strongest, affordability problems are often the worst. Of course, the ramifications of this crisis are not felt equally. It is often the younger and less well-off residents who are eventually priced out of their own communities.

Building more and better homes is not a panacea. But we must acknowledge it is part of the solution. As Geoff Meen, one of the UK’s foremost housing experts has pointed out, it’s ‘perfectly possible for there to be both an absolute shortage of homes and a distribution problem’. In essence, we are not building enough homes in England, and we do not have the right policies to create more sustainable credit conditions or ensure fair access to housing for people on all incomes.

Once we acknowledge that building more homes is part of the solution, then the next question we must answer is ‘how do we build more’? Part of the answer lies in the way we deliver homes through England’s planning system. While the government’s proposed reforms aren’t flawless, they do present a vision. Significant questions about what these reforms could mean for the delivery of affordable housing persist and they certainly don’t go far enough in tackling high land values.

The answer to these weaknesses is better reforms, not no reforms. We must imagine a better alternative to our current planning system if we are to tackle the root causes of the housing crisis.

To show their credibility on housing issues, political parties must better sell a vision for a planning system that delivers the homes we need and in doing so, stops people from being priced out of their communities. That requires putting aside the short-term gains of winning immediate votes by objecting to local development and instead explaining why we need to build more homes in this country. Making the case for more homes nationally while opposing them in their backyard reduces the credibility of any national message politicians might have on housing.

The widespread opposition to the government’s planning reforms suggest that they were dead on arrival. That is not a reason to abandon attempts to address the housing crisis. At the moment, our planning system reinforces England’s broken housing market because land that obtains planning permission increases exponentially in value. This makes it increasingly difficult to build homes at affordable prices. Despite this, suitable policy solutions such as the introduction of zoning policy find few advocates and instead, the dysfunctional status quo persists.

We need to build a new consensus on housing. It is time to move beyond the short-term gains and quick wins that come from opposing new homes. Instead, politicians must present a bold and radical vision for how they will address England’s housing crisis. Now is the time for radical and ambitious vision that would improve the supply of high-quality and affordable homes, while also tackling the unfair distribution of homes.  The myriad of problems facing the housing market – from the building safety crisis to rampant unaffordability – will only get worse without action to deliver better quality and more affordable homes.

The longer the housing crisis goes unfixed, the more damage it does. Progressives must not fall into the trap of opposition for opposition’s sake. Instead, they should articulate a clear vision that that explains why the housing market is broken, why we need radical action to fix things and how a fairer society can be created if we get things right. 

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Jonathan Webb</span></strong>
Jonathan Webb

Jonathan Webb is a Senior Research Fellow at IPPR North. He tweets @jrkwebb.