'We need a diverse house building model to solve the housing crisis.'
Government must support all kinds of house builders to build the homes we need, says Kate Henderson, the chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, in the latest of our exclusive articles compiled as part of the 75th anniversary of the Beveridge Report.
If we want to create affordable inclusive communities rather than just housing units then we urgently need a new house building model.
While the private sector plays an important role in building homes in England, they are incapable of delivering the number or quality of homes we need.
The new model would focus on creating diverse housing tenure options, delivered by a range of providers. These could include new innovative and publicly accountable development corporations and local authority companies, working in partnership with housing associations, developers and SMEs, through to smaller, citizen-led models such as co-operatives, community land trusts and self-build.
A key foundation for this new and diverse house building model would be a much stronger role for the public sector in planning new communities.
It seems all too easy to forget the significant contribution planning made to improving people’s quality of life since the end of the 19th century. We built extraordinary quality social housing which was an unparalleled improvement on what had come before.
In the post war years the public and private sector achieved the delivery of over 300,000 new homes pa, with around 90,000 of those homes being built by local councils. From the late 1940s to the late 1960s we built 32 new towns which still house over 2.7m people today. Town planning was a key tool in contributing to broad set of progressive outcomes for people.
Yet since the late 1970s house building figures have dramatically declined and we have seen an increasingly larger bill for housing benefit payments, whilst failing to address the root cause of rent increases, which is the lack of supply of social and affordable housing. In addition, the comprehensive deregulation of planning since 2010 has resulted in us building some of lowest quality homes in north west Europe.
As part of a new house building model there should be a positive long-term role for new communities, combining the quality and beauty of garden cities, as found at Letchworth and Welwyn, with the practical success of the delivery of the post war new towns.
We now need to be brave and match the scale of the post war ambition by building a new generation of garden cities fit for the 21st century. This is an obvious part of the new housing model for England because garden cities represent the very best of British place-making, framed by a financial model which can pay for itself. The model is based upon the capture of the uplift in land values which the granting of planning permission and the development creates; this can be used to fund infrastructure provision, debt repayments and long-term reinvestment in the new community.
This is both morally defensible – much of the value is created by public sector policy decisions – and commercially sensible – development can proceed more rapidly and successfully if it is backed up by adequate and timely infrastructure.
The development of new communities must go hand in hand with the regeneration and renewal of our existing towns and cities. London and many of our regional cities have seen an economic renaissance over the last 20 years but the management of economic growth has often ignored the needs of many people and communities.
Our job now is to refocus on reaching the most excluded and vulnerable in our cities. This requires a strong vision for our urban areas; we need to provide real opportunities for meaningful partnerships at the city-regional level and we need a new focus on area-based approaches to regeneration at the local level.
A new house building model should be at the heart of this new urban policy, drawing together community governance and planning with the wider integration of related health, education, policing and local authority powers and institutions.
This was a key lesson from the TCPA/Webb Memorial Trust report Planning out Poverty which recommended a new form of area-based planning which seeks to combine planning powers and in particular place-based delivery vehicles, with a much greater sense of social outcomes and community governance . Like the garden city model this is not a new concept, but the emphasis and outcomes would be tailored to tackle specifically those areas facing complex social challenges.
Citizen-led models of housing, including co-housing and community land trusts, should be another important element of a new house building model. Citizen-led models of housing development offer both opportunities for community-based governance and stewardship arrangements and the possibility of providing a variety of tenures within a development. Self-build and custom-build homes should also be an important part of the new housing model in England, and land should be designated for this purpose, potentially as serviced plots. This isn’t all about Grand Designs, opportunities offered by self-build and custom-build must be made realistic for those on moderate and low incomes.
Citizen-led housing models are not new ideas, but the scale and pace of community-led developments in England is currently relatively small and lags behind the rest of Europe. In order to accelerate the delivery of citizen-led models of development, alongside building decent social and affordable housing, suitable public sector land should be released at less than market value where this is demonstrably in the public interest. It is still possible to achieve good value for the taxpayer using this mechanism; it is simply that some of the returns to the public purse are generated through the wider economic benefits of housing delivery for the nation.
We need to build consensus to build successful communities
Three fundamental changes are needed to build the homes the nation needs and deserves, and to lay the foundations of a new house building model.
Firstly, we must build consensus that housing – including housing that is available for social rent, either from a council or housing association – is good for the nation. Advocates for new, high-quality housing need to seize the economic, social and environmental high ground to explain why new housing is both necessary and desirable. Ultimately, we must act on a crucial guiding principle: good-quality housing, for people of all incomes and circumstances, is a pillar of a civilised society.
Secondly, we need consensus on a coherent housing supply model for the future, which should encompass issues of social justice, investment patterns, housing quality, tenure and planning policy. This will require significant changes to the policy and legislative framework, for example, to enable councils to build outstanding, inclusive and genuinely affordable homes.
Thirdly, we need consensus about the purpose of planning and this will require reforming the planning system. The current planning system does not command consensus between the public, private and voluntary sectors, and some of its outcomes are plainly against the long-term public interest. We urgently need to restore a comprehensive framework of place-making standards, and planning policy should be rebalanced to ensure social justice and outcomes for people are just as important as the needs of land-owners and developers.
With support from the Webb Memorial Trust, the TCPA has begun this process of consensus building by producing the Planning4People Manifesto which is supported by a powerful coalition of over 110 like-minded people and organisations who are working together to change planning for the better.
There is no doubt that we will build new homes in Britain, but the challenge for all of us is whether we have the determination to leave future generations with a legacy of beauty and durability which truly meets the challenges of the 21st century.
This means ensuring the homes we build meet the needs of everyone in society – and it will need us to create a shared sense of purpose and partnership across politics and across sectors if we are to realise this ambition. Above all this means a leading role for communities and the public sector enabled by a planning system with social justice at its heart.
Kate Henderson is chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association.
This article was written for the Webb Memorial Trust and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty as part of the 75th anniversary of the Beveridge Report and is part of a series of articles.