Homeless charity Shelter calls for housing shortage to be at top electoral agenda

A leading housing expert says that providing the 250,000 new homes a year the UK urgently needs is going to be a major electoral issue.
Shelter says 90,000 children will be homeless in the UK this Christmas and is calling on the next government to bring in new laws making it easier for more affordable homes to be built. The homeless charity wants to see more land released at lower prices, which can then be used by housing associations and small to medium developers to build cheaper homes. 

Pete Jefferys, the charity’s senior policy officer, says:  “It is essential housing gets into Cabinet and it is now essential that the UK builds 250,000 houses every year for the next 10 or 20 years. It is going to be a big electoral issue and we have to push it up the agenda. The amount of land the UK currently uses for housing is about as much as we use for golf courses.”

But Jefferys, who was talking at City investment managers, Brewin Dolphin, claims there is a solution which works in both Holland and Germany. Called Zoning, legislation gives cities “zoning powers” to buy land at a low price, on which housing associations and small-to-medium builders can then afford to build affordable homes.

“We currently have a back-to-front housing model,” he says, “where house builders building small private builds can make the most profit, so can pay more for land, which squeezes affordable builders out of the market.” 

In association with accountants KPMG, Shelter has published a report called New Homes Zones setting out how this works, which has been taken up by the influential Lyons Review on housing.

Jefferys explains that in 2012, zoning was tested successfully in London, when four local authorities came together as the Olympic Development Authority and bought land at low rates to create new homes in the Olympic Park.

But he says zoning isn’t the only solution. A longer-term plan could also include new garden cities. Two months ago Shelter’s design for a such a city was runner-up in the Wolfson Economics Prize, the world’s second biggest economics prize after the Nobel. 

The charity’s design, called Stoke Harbour, on the Hoo Peninsula in Kent, developed with architects PRP, would provide thousands of genuinely affordable homes, new infrastructure, services and thousands of new jobs.

Jefferys says: ”Building the 250,000 homes we need each year for the next 10 to 20 years will create a huge number of jobs; builders, architects, plumbers, electricians and so on, so the government should see this as an opportunity. If the government backs this at the next election, there will be thousands of new jobs. In 1951, Churchill pledged to build 300,000 new houses a year. So if the will is there, it can be done.”

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