The communities secretary seems ready to brave Conservative Party hostility in his effort to build a million homes by the end of the decade, says Will Hurst
If Sajid Javid gets his way, 2017 will go down as the year we truly began to tackle the housing crisis. The communities secretary and MP for Bromsgrove told last year’s Tory party conference that this was a ‘moral duty’, and more recently described the crisis as the ‘biggest social issue’ facing the government – quite a claim, given the parlous state of the NHS and the social care sector.
We will know a lot more about Javid’s plans shortly because the forthcoming housing white paper is expected to be published before the end of the month.
But what kind of policies should we expect, and how should architects respond?
The government is scrambling to build a million new homes by the end of the decade (last year we achieved only 190,000) so expect radical measures to boost supply, aimed at turning on every available tap. Hence the new plan for 14 new ‘Garden Villages’ around the country, which will go hand-in-hand with a continuing focus on developing brownfield land.
Indeed, Javid is so keen not to rule anything out that even the green belt is not entirely off limits – development may be permitted on it in ‘exceptional’ circumstances, whatever that means.
Javid is so keen not to rule anything out that even the green belt is not entirely off limits
He is also very interested in prefabrication, self-build and custom-build, and spent the first week of 2017 visiting innovative housing schemes that employ these methods in Europe, including those at Almere in The Netherlands and Potsdam in Germany.
Whatever lessons he draws, Javid’s desire for multiple solutions and his willingness to seek them out is to be applauded. Don’t forget that much of what he is proposing may cost his party votes in the Tory shires and is already reportedly testing the resolve of the prime minister, given his determination to see a step-change in the numbers combined with ‘major long-lasting reform’.
Architects – who will naturally wish to see design quality upheld amid the rush to build – will be cheered by his remarks at the Tory conference, in which he attacked Nimbyism but conceded that housing schemes that are ‘plain ugly’ deserve to be opposed.
But they also need to take a leaf out of his book and get stuck in when it comes to tackling major housing challenges.
They could start by renewing their efforts to ensure that design quality is maintained throughout a scheme’s life – for instance through novation, as discussed by Meredith Bowles of Mole Architects in Laura Mark’s excellent Q&A with Mole.