26 October 2023

A manifesto for housing

By Tom Spencer

Since the Second World War, England has failed to build enough homes to meet the needs of the population, thanks to the creation of a discretionary planning system that makes it inordinately difficult to build new homes. Consequently, house prices have soared, pricing out individuals and families from moving to the places that best meet their needs.

The economic solution to this problem is obvious to everyone who has thought about it – we must build more homes. I am not alone in saying this – it has been the consensus among economists, policy wonks, and anyone who has spent any time thinking about it for decades. Indeed, even politicians realise this. Housing secretary after housing secretary has expressed an ambition to build our way out of the housing shortage we’ve fallen into, but all have failed.

However, generations of housing leaders have failed to present a workable platform to tackle this crisis that acknowledges the political economy of housing. The truth is in the abstract most people support building more homes. Since 2010, the British Social Attitude Survey has asked people, ‘How much would you support or oppose more homes being built in your local area?’ 58% of people answered in 2020 that they support more housebuilding, with just 25% opposing.

Of course, this could be used to explain that it is a small minority of Nimbys who are blocking all new housing. Whilst this may be true in part it presents an incomplete explanation. The truth is that what drives people to block housing is what academics have described as place protection. This refers to the fear that new houses will change one’s way of life. These concerns include poor aesthetics, the fear new housing will be built for outsiders and unaffordable to existing residents, as well as a potential negative impact on local infrastructure such as parking, traffic, and access to schools and healthcare

The inconvenient truth for housing advocates such as myself is that many of these fears are justified. Sometimes new housing is designed for outsiders, and it is not always beautiful. Moreover, if more people do move to an area without infrastructure improving, then the existing infrastructure will be more burdened. The reality is that any housing plan that is going to work must confront these realities and present a platform that can address people’s objections without sacrificing the need for new homes.

That is the task I set myself when writing PricedOut’s new manifesto laying out our plan to end the housing crisis. We are under no illusion that this is the only plan out there to deliver housing affordability. PricedOut, thankfully, are just one cog in a growing engine of Yimbys that now includes the Leader of the Opposition. However, by directly acknowledging the political constraints and offering pro-housing solutions to them we believe we’ve presented a unique take on the issue that will be interesting to all political parties.

For all the details you will have to read the manifesto, but to give a flavour of the kind of policies we propose to combat the idea that only landowners and developers get rich from housing we propose introducing trials of community land auctions. Elsewhere, to combat the growing perception that the leasehold system is unfair we propose planning reforms to help encourage the construction of commonhold estates, as well as removing red tape complicating the enfranchisement of existing leaseholds.

Finally some ideas that we propose might not address every criticism of new homes without costing a penny, but we propose them anyway because they are the right thing to do. This includes re-introducing legal aid to housing disputes. Believe it or not, in the UK renters actually have quite extensive rights – the key difficulty not captured in the Renters Reform Bill is enforcing them.

The intention behind this article was to cast a line that’ll hook readers into reading the manifesto. So, I will not give any further spoilers. Those who do read it, we hope, will take our proposals seriously and pressure political leaders to implement its proposals. If they do, then we might finally rid ourselves of the housing crisis that is blighting far too many lives.

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Tom Spencer is Research Director at Priced Out.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.