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Is The Undersupply Of Housing In The UK Ever Going To Resolve?

The ongoing housing crunch in the UK has been a hot topic for quite some time now. With shrinking spaces and skyrocketing prices, many are left scratching their heads, wondering if there’s an end in sight to the UK’s persistent housing shortage.

A Deeper Look Into The Problem

It’s hard to fathom the magnitude of the situation. In England, we’re faced with a scenario where the typical house costs over ten times what most people earn in a year. Add to that the vacancy rates are barely scraping 1%, and folks privately renting feel the pinch with noticeably less space than they used to have. It’s a pressing issue, to say the least.

Current governmental aspirations aim to construct 300,000 homes annually. However, even if this target is diligently met, it would take over half a century to fill the existing gap. A swifter resolution would necessitate a monumental push: 654,000 homes per year over the coming decade or 442,000 annually for the next quarter-century, solely in England.

When Did The Crisis Begin?

Contrary to popular belief, the roots of this crisis trace back to 1947, not the 1980s. Newly available data, compiled post-World War II by the United Nations, reveals that the introduction of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 marks the starting point of the housing predicament. This legislation fundamentally reshaped the landscape of British urban development and significantly impacted house-building trends. The rationale behind the act was to regulate urban growth, but its unintended consequences curtailed the housing supply. House-building rates in England and Wales plummeted by over a third post this act.

From 2% growth annually between 1856 and 1939, we nosedived to 1.2% between 1947 and 2019. This decline stands as a testament to the prolonged nature of the UK’s housing crisis, and it has been instrumental in the subsequent surge in property prices and rents.

The Way Forward: Planning Reform

To extricate ourselves from this deep-seated problem, a large-scale reform is imperative. Central to this is the overhaul of the planning system, which has largely remained untouched since 1947.

  1. Ensuring Quality: Addressing the quantity issue should not overshadow the quality of housing. Recent new builds have shown glaring structural flaws. From the absence of elements like the precast concrete retaining wall to poor drainage systems due to structural imbalances and compromised material quality internally, these issues underline the necessity of meticulous design and execution in housing projects.
  1. Shifting to a Rules-based System: Transitioning from the discretionary planning system to a flexible, rules-based zoning approach is essential. That ensures that development adheres to set guidelines, offering clarity and assurance in the process. It would help foster private and public sector development alike.
  1. Augmenting Private Sector House Building: While increased council and social housing are crucial, the magnitude of the backlog mandates a significant enhancement in private housebuilding.

Addressing the UK’s housing crisis is not merely about numbers; it’s about ensuring each home is a haven, built to last, and accessible to all. With informed policies, focused execution, and a commitment to quantity and quality, the UK can and must find its way out of this housing conundrum.