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Expert panel demands massive drive to build social housing


More than 3 million social homes should be built in England over the next 20 years, according to a high-profile group of experts brought together in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire

The commission – organised by housing charity Shelter – urged the government to launch a major drive that would see almost 200,000 subsidised dwellings created every year until 2034.

Alarm was sounded before Christmas when figures showed just 6,463 homes were created for social rent in 2017/18.

Now the 16-strong commission, which includes former Labour leader Ed Miliband, former Conservative Party co-chair Sayeeda Warsi and TV architect George Clarke, has warned that ‘hundreds of thousands’ of people will become homeless unless action is taken.

Analysis within the report carried out by research body Capital Economics suggested the cost of the programme would come to some £213 billion.

The commission said that the scheme would pay for itself within 20 years of completing – through reduced benefit payments and increased tax receipts from increased economic activity sparked by construction work.

Commissioner and crossbench peer Jim O’Neill said: ‘There needs to be a profound shift to see social housing as a national asset like any other infrastructure. A home is the foundation of individual success in life, and public housebuilding can be the foundation of national success. It is the only hope the government has of hitting its 300,000 homes a year target.

‘The government’s budget for capital expenditure is £62 billion a year – our housebuilding programme would cost only a fraction and is well within its financial reach. With current spending on housing benefit shockingly inefficient, it’s not hard to see what an investment in bricks and mortar could do to help solve the housing crisis and boost our economy.’

Housing secretary James Brokenshire said: ‘Providing quality and fair social housing is a priority for this government and our Social Housing Green Paper seeks to ensure it can both support social mobility and be a stable base that supports people when they need it.

‘We’ve asked tenants across the country for their views and the thousands of responses we’ve received will help us design the future of social housing.

‘Our ambitious £9 billion affordable homes programme will deliver 250,000 homes by 2022, including homes for social rent. A further £2 billion of long-term funding has already been committed beyond that as part of a 10-year home-building programme through to 2028. We’re also giving councils extra freedom to build the social homes their communities need and expect.’


Félicie Krikler, director, Assael Architecture

A government-backed house-building programme of this scale would help remedy many of the challenges currently facing the British social housing market. By pursuing a build-out initiative that delivers over 3 million social homes over the next 20 years, the recurrent issues around the availability and affordability of social housing could be dramatically improved for millions.

Such a bold policy proposal must go alongside an equally bold commitment to high-quality design

Such a bold policy proposal, however, must go alongside an equally bold commitment to high-quality design and management. As we know, the success of projects lies in the local governments’ commitment to maintain and uphold developments long after their completion with any large-scale house-building programme extending far beyond the literal construction of homes, to include community engagement from the outset, guidance around good design and material quality, as well as an ongoing maintenance strategy to ensure the success of each and every development.

Tom Copley, Labour’s London Assembly housing spokesperson

For this government, social housing has sadly been an afterthought. In London, we’ve seen the impact of this with fewer than 8,000 social homes having been built over the last five years in total.

With more and more people being forced into the all-too-often precarious conditions of the private rented sector, it is clear that we need to see a historic renewal in social housing to provide safe, secure and affordable homes to Londoners.

In our capital, we are witnessing the burning injustice of thousands sleeping rough on the streets and trapped in temporary accommodation, alongside a rise in the hidden homeless population.

Shelter’s plan for social housing sets a benchmark for the level of ambition that we need to turn this dire situation around. The government must now pull its weight, and work with the mayor by putting the funding in place to secure the 30,000 new social homes that London needs each year.

But it’s no good building new social housing only to lose precious existing council homes to Right to Buy. The government must end this policy, which has resulted in the loss of 287,303 social rented homes in London in the past 40 years.

Robin Shepherd, partner at planning and design consultancy Barton Willmore

Today’s report suggests that it is cheaper in the long run to push social housing than private rental homes, but it shouldn’t be a case of swapping out one for the other – the private rental sector is becoming increasingly important and relied upon because home ownership has become so expensive. Home ownership, rental and social housing should all have their place.

The Government has empowered local authorities by lifting borrowing to deliver housing but it has been a generation since they last delivered social housing on a large scale, so it is crucial to ensure that they have the resources, skills and finances to deliver.

We must not forget that at the heart of this are real people in need of real homes. The issue is that even where politicians do recognise the social need, voters resist. People need to understand that meeting this basic human need will require intensifying and extending urban development and providing new settlements.

We need to win hearts and minds so that people who do have homes understand exactly how to help those who don’t

At a regional level we need to win hearts and minds so that people who do have homes understand exactly how to help those who don’t. We live in the age of engagement, and communication has never been easier. We need to be using the technology available to us – apps, social media, digital advertising – to effectively communicate with the right people, increasing knowledge and ultimately driving a change in attitudes. Until we get to grips with that we are never going to move forward.


Readers' comments (3)

  • These homes will never be built. At current land values and build costs the 50% requirement for affordable housing in new schemes over 9 units means developers have to push the costs of providing these homes onto the market housing, so affordable homes make housing un-affordable and viability tests therefore fail. This is all wrong. The Gov should be adding a per unit tax onto new homes for developers so all new development pays. The LA should then be given this money to develop and build their own affordable homes. A developer is never going to build houses that will not make a decent profit, and why should they. All the policies are ridiculous, unless the Gov radically re thinks how it funds social housing and who builds them they will never achieve their goal. They need to do it themselves and stop pushing the responsibility onto developers.

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  • A good range of opinions from experts involved in this endeavour. And it’s obvious the current system isn’t working. Local Authorities already have much on their hands with the day to day running of their estates? And Brockenshire has so far proved broken Sir?!

    A new organisation is needed with alternative funding and owning/leasing and management models. And Green Bonds have been made available by the insurance companies and banks to back sustainable development to the value of 1 £Trillion/annum for the next 10 years, in tranches of £250m. It’s a start?! Land and expertise will of course also be required. As a start I will be contacting Assael’s to explain all this in greater detail. I’m sure Felicie and her team would like to hear more. Unfortunately it does involve the EU, but we will be free of all that by April 1. No fooling.

    I’m sure the AJ and all architects and builders will be interested to hear how this proceeds, and get involved. Houses for all, and an end to this age old problem? And a concerted attempt to reduce global warming and the use of our natural resources. Win win, whether you believe man is causing global warming or not. And we can devote capital to the other problems we face. Food, water, transport, health, education etc etc.

    Watch these spaces?

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  • The cross-party report calling for building of social homes at the rate of almost 50,000 a year for the next 11 years stands in danger of simply racking up change-of-use inflation in land prices, putting the unearned value uplift of as much as a multiple of 70 to 155 times into the pockets of speculators. Unless the basic structure of housing provision in UK is changed to restore to local authorities powers of compulsory purchase with taxation on the land-value enhancement this will be the unintended consequence.

    The result of right-to-buy has been the sell off of 60,000 council homes, with a £3.5bn public subsidy and 40% of that stock finding its way into the hands of private landlords, who rent it back, often to the same local authority at hugely inflated rates. A straight transfer of public wealth into private hands.

    Have the report authors studied the 2016 research that showed unimplemented planning consents for nearly half a million homes? Or that according to government data, analysed by online estate agent HouseSimple, the number of empty homes has risen for the first time in a decade to 205,293, representing £50bn worth of vacant property stock across England?

    Research shows that there is little evidence of a short-fall in the housing stock. The crisis we suffer from is largely the result of acute mal-distribution within an economic structure which encourages maximum consumption of a scarce resource, by those with the means to command the market, at the expense of the many with little or no access to capital. Land Value Taxation is one mechanism, which would very swiftly and relatively painlessly provide a counter-balance to this vicious cycle of ever increasing disparity of wealth distribution. The Housing and Planning bill should be rescinded, restoring security of tenure to existing tenants.

    The equalization VAT on refurbishment with the currently zero-rate for new-house-build, would remove a 20% incentive to demolish and redevelop. With a level playing field, an objective cost comparison could be made between proper maintenance and redevelopment, with all the social cost the latter involves.

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