An improving outlook for housing development?

Housing is a basic need and adequate supply is essential to a sustainable economy. For many years, however, the UK has failed to build enough homes. Mel Clinton explores Government measures for improving the outlook.

The provision of good quality new homes, with a sense of place and range of amenities, opportunities and services can help people and communities to flourish. But, average house prices are almost eight times average earnings and when development does occur, there are often concerns about the quality of homes and places created. As a result, the Government has concluded that the housing market is broken.

In its 2017 White Paper, ‘Fixing our broken housing market’, the Government identified a need for between 225,000 and 275,000 new homes per year, against average annual delivery of around 160,000. It sets out the Government’s strategy for addressing the ‘housing crisis’. Measures include:

Making better use of land. Including building at higher densities in appropriate locations, for example, places within urban areas well served by public transport.

While density is a measure of the efficiency of land use, it should be the outcome of good design. In the right locations, higher densities can bring character, support provision of public transport and provide for good quality urban living. Sometimes this will involve tall buildings and such proposals are often a source of great controversy. But it is at street level that most people experience buildings. Therefore, how a sense of human-scale street frontage is created, above which the taller elements sit, is of vital importance. In our work, we therefore place great emphasis on the role of urban design in creating streets for people and setting the brief for the architectural design.

Diversifying the market. This includes enabling more small and medium-size developers to build new homes and supporting delivery by housing associations. It also includes expanding the contribution from new models, such as build to rent and custom-build, as well as fostering creativity and innovation, including increased use of off-site manufacture. It is notable, too, that local authorities are now widely taking an active role in housing delivery, often in joint ventures with the private sector.

We welcome this and the recent Government announcement that it is to lift restrictions on local authority borrowing to build more homes, because it is clear the curtailment of local authority housebuilding, starting in the early 1980s, mirrors the major downturn in supply. To provide the homes needed the private, public and community sectors all need to play their part. We consequently work with a variety of developers and organisations delivering new homes and make creativity a core principle of our approach.

Improving design and quality. This can happen by setting out clear design expectations, including use of widely accepted design standards, involving local communities and pre-planning application dialogue. Good design is at the heart of our work. We work collaboratively with our clients, local planning authorities, the community and other stakeholders to create social, environmental, economic and financial value.

A lack of housing is one of the UK’s biggest challenges. There is no quick fix but these measures are a good, if overdue, basis for improving housing prospects for all.