Optimism Dashed: Reality of housing white paper is all politics, no economics
Take today’s housing white paper; the hype around its release, as well as the indication from leaks that substantial reforms were on the way, had me very hopeful. The new set of plans was never going to amount to full protectionist upheaval – which will inevitably be needed to fully solve the housing crisis – but it seemed like on both the ‘height and width’ front, the Communities Secretary was serious about increasing supply side, with aims to build in every politically-possible direction.
Alas, today’s paper has been watered down substantially, earmarking land for only ‘tens of thousands’ of new homes, despite the Secretary’s acknowledgement that 250,000 are needed per annum to keep up with demand.
The bolder elements of planning reform – specifically a rollback of planning regulations and green belt protections – have been omitted from the white paper. According to The Times, the government is instead promising “maximum protections for the green belt” – not because it’s good planning policy – but because of their fear of backlash.
The Government’s unwillingness to take on the NIMBY lobby is going to present major problems to their own white paper policies, which call for forcing local councils to build more homes, as well as downsizing seniors into smaller properties. On the former, the mandate to increase housing supply will inevitably put pressure on the green belt, regardless of ‘maximum protections’, making it likely the council leaders will look for anywhere else to build first, including out-of-the-way locations where people don’t actually want to live, as well as environmentally hazardous brownfield sites. On the latter, downsizing is only desirable when there are alternatives to one’s current accommodation; a problem that can only be solved by building more homes.
Unfortunately, today’s housing announcements do very little to liberalise the planning system or implement measures to bring housing costs down. Building on a mere 0.5% of England’s green belt would fulfil a decade’s worth of housing needs – but even this kind of measured boldness is too much for the government to take on.
Until politicians are willing to tackle Britain’s cost of living crisis in a meaningful way, the IEA will continue to put forward its own prescriptions and solutions.
Below are five key policies taken from the IEA’s Dr Kristian Niemietz’s work on housing, which if implemented, would go a long way to solving the housing crisis and getting costs down for renters and owners alike: