Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 4th October 2017

Housing is one of our biggest problems and frankly no one is getting to grips with it.

We stopped building enough homes in the 1970s, after which Right-to-Buy undermined both the financial model for building council housing and the schemes council investment enabled. We’re living longer lives in smaller households, so regardless of what happens with freedom of movement we’re still going to need many more houses. Failure of supply to keep pace with demand means that not only are there too few homes to go around but, as people outbid one another, higher prices.

Every week some new initiative is announced to get us building, yet nothing of the scale we need. We were promised that the Housing White Paper would deliver that change and I’m reliably informed the draft paper was everything which was promised, only for all its actual substance to be gutted by Number 10 worried a mass-building programme would play badly in the Tory shires.

The failure is the planning system itself. Land is the most critical component in housing delivery and our system encourages shortages by only allocating the bare minimum sites in each area for development. So developers then outbid one another for the land, working out what they can sell the units for and subtracting their costs and profit margin to produce their bid. This means from the start our system assumes homes will be sold for the maximum possible price. Worse still, if they pay too much the planning system allows them to avoid local requirements for affordable housing and infrastructure on the grounds of ‘viability’, the housing equivalent of saying you’ve spent too much money so we’ll let you off your income tax.

There two solutions. One, get rid of Planning and let developers build whatever they want wherever they want, prices would certainly drop but everyone would suffer from badly designed localities. Two, look to Crawley’s history, another centrally-driven programme of New Town building, buying land at agricultural prices and building out whole communities with the infrastructure they need. Both would work, but I know which one I’d rather see.

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