Will it take more than fixing the planning system to improve housing supply?

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 18/11/11, under a slightly different title]

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Britain has a housing problem. There are problems of shortage and, consequently, access and affordability.

There are three principal mechanisms for dealing with significant housing shortage and indirectly reducing the affordability problems that go with it: (1) You can reduce the number of households needing to be housed; (2) You can increase the number of properties available; and (3) You can improve the utilization of the existing stock of properties.

You can try to do something on all three fronts. A couple of weeks ago LibDemVoice co-editor Mark Pack identified six options, covering all three of these mechanisms. The options differ in their desirability and political feasibility.

Government efforts to increase supply have so far focused on the planning reforms ushered in by the Localism Act, while the New Homes Bonus is intended to incentivise communities to welcome such development. Whether the planning reforms will deliver is still open to question. On the day the Localism Bill was signed into law the Federation of Master Builders warned that top-down targets may need to be re-introduced if sufficient supply is to be secured. They are, it appears, expecting localism to equal NIMBYism.

One issue that has received limited attention in the debate so far is the construction industry. Developers and the Government are happy to point the finger at planners being the major barrier to new build. But planning is at best facilitative. Designating land for residential development doesn’t, in itself, get properties built. [Read more…]