The UK Government will need to stick to its plans to boost house building outlined in its new policy paper if it is to reach its target of a million new homes by 2020, according to a new report.
Now is the perfect time to initiate a housing revolution as attitude to housing is changing and it is regarded as one of the top five most important issues in the country by voters, says a report from think tank the Centre for Policy Studies.
But it also suggests that green belt land will need to be used for new homes if local authorities are to reach housing demand targets which yesterday’s Housing White Paper published by the Government says they must draw up and review on a regular basis.
The report, Housing: Now is the time to Seize the Opportunity, was completed before the publication of yesterday’s Housing White Paper but it addresses the key issues in that document.
It suggests that the electorate will not look kindly on a Government which fails to meet its housing targets, particularly as it has recognised the problem at the highest level.
It also points out that the economy already suffers as a result of inadequate housing stocks as significant sums of money are tied up in unproductive assets and high house prices distort the labour market forcing working people to waste fruitless and uncomfortable hours commuting.
It suggests that legislation should be introduced to create Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) which can act to bring together developers, local communities, utility providers, and any other parties and provide a balance between the groups to facilitate a smoother process.
But it is particularly outspoken on green belt. The Government’s Housing White Paper stated that existing strong protections for the green belt will remain and boundaries would only be amended in exceptional circumstances when local authorities can demonstrate that they have fully examined all other reasonable options for meeting their identified housing requirements.
But the think tank report says that the Government should encourage councils to redraw green belt boundaries. It explains that official data shows that green belt has increased by 127% since 1979. ‘Yet some of it is not particularly green and a third devoted to intensive farming which is neither kind to the environment or wildlife,’ the report says.
It also argues that the whole issue of green belt has perhaps become too politicised and yet it does not have an official environmental designation like national parks and sites of scientific interest.
It believes that councils will have to give permission for more homes to be built on green belt if they are to meet their targets. It gives as an example Cheshire whose local plan has increased the number of houses needed from 27,000 to 30,000 by 2030 and it suggests that can only be done by using green belt land.
It also points out that Greater Manchester authority is currently reviewing its greenbelt boundaries for the first time in 30 years. East Surrey is another local authority where adjustments will be needed to the boundaries of what is deemed to be green belt and Coventry wants to remove 10% of its 3,000 hectares of green belt.
Some councils have proposed building on existing green belt land and designating new green belt nearby to compensate for its loss but this kind of move has been dismissed by the Planning Inspectorate. Northumberland County Council has indicated that it needs to redraw its green belt boundaries.