A year to finally tackle the housing crisis?

It’s only a year since I last wrote in these pages but looking back, February 2020 feels like a different era rather than a mere 12 months ago.

In Feb 2020 BC (Before Corona) I was optimistic that the new Boris Johnson Premiership with its strong majority would finally tackle planning reform, address doubts about the standard housing methodology and start to deliver on its pledge to ‘level-up’ the English Regions.  I also looked forward to progress being made on strategic planning, with joint spatial plans in the Black Country, Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region moving forward.

Whilst I did hedge my bets against the anti-development tendencies of backbench Conservative MPs, I speculated that the collapse of Labour’s ‘red wall’ could be good news for home builders. 12 months on and I’m struck by the lost opportunities that the pandemic has created as the Government’s attention has focussed on dealing with the health emergency, supporting the economy and sorting a trade deal with the EU.

Reform delays

Reform to the planning system doesn’t feel any closer today than it did last year, and it remains to be seen whether the watered-down proposals will make it onto the statute book in the near future. Proposals to reform local government, streamlining decision-making by creating new unitary authorities and potentially devolving further powers to existing and new elected mayors have been delayed. And the eventual changes to calculating housing need haven’t exactly provided the shot in the arm that many professionals working across the Midlands and North of England had hoped for.

But perhaps the biggest lost opportunity hasn’t been anything that Government hasn’t done.  Instead, delays to Local Plan making in many parts of the country will perhaps have the greatest impact in the short term than anything Government didn’t deliver in 2020.  And it is ironic to say the least that in the worst economic climate of our lifetimes, which has focussed minds on the importance of place and one’s home; some elected mayors and local councillors remain unwilling to take on the naysayers and plan for growth – often with the support of their local MPs.

Nevertheless, I remain an optimist that better times do indeed lie ahead, not least because up and down the country there are local authorities who are determined to plan for growth, often in the face of concerted efforts by some to stop them. With local plans expected to kick on this year across the Midlands and North of England, strong recent results for home builders due to better than anticipated demand last year and a chink of light at the end of the pandemic as a result of the new vaccines, 2021 could yet be busier than many of us working beyond the ‘red wall’ expect.

This article first appeared in Housebuilder Magazine’s February 2021 edition. You can view it here.