Social change demands housing innovation

Changing attitudes and new family forms require innovative thinking on new homes, says Andrew Howard, managing director of communications consultancy BECG. Are the planners ready?

Our relationship with housebuilding and home ownership continually shifts. It is easy to assume new homes built for sale are the gold standard. An aspiration ingrained in our country’s housing DNA.

But 100 years ago more than 75% of households in England were private renters, a quarter were owner occupied and less than 1% were in social rented accommodation.

Today, our housing market looks radically different: housebuilding is now synonymous with private sale – family homes with a garden, or building new apartments to regenerate inner cities.

But our society and housing needs have changed. According to The Marriage Foundation, 47% of women and 48% of men aged 20 will not marry. Millennials are more likely not to have children than earlier generations. More people live in new family forms, where traditional sexual and gender paradigms are rejected. Add in an ever-increasing gap between wages and house prices, or the pressures of inward migration, and it is clear that the traditional view of the “physical” family home needs a rethink.

Hence the growth of alternative tenure types. Moving the UK away from the limited and binary “own or rent” home ownership models makes sense – lifestyles have shifted, needs have evolved, and tastes have leapt forward.

Response

Encouragingly, the market and imaginative housebuilders have responded – institutional investment in PRS, innovations in models of student housing, experiments in co-living. The diversification of models continues to grow, as does the embrace of new build technologies. All marking a period of growth, creativity and opportunity, shifting away from traditional models.

If the good news is that the market has started to adapt, the bad news is that the planning and regulatory system has been far slower to react and is now lagging behind. Our planning system needs to recognise social change and realise the benefits of tenure innovation in assisting regeneration, delivering placemaking, and building high quality homes, at scale, in areas of demand.

BECG is currently engaged in work in around a third of all planning authorities in the UK. Far too often we see planning authorities where officers and/or members are either unfamiliar with, or actively hostile to, innovative developments. Too often “use-classes” are a shield or comfort blanket, hiding more parochial objections where planning decision making is out of step with changing tastes and demands for flexibility in student provision, co-living or PRS.

If we are to meet the demands of our changing society, we must educate and change our planning system to encourage home builders of all kinds. Social change and future generations require innovation in housing products and tenure forms. The planning system needs to adapt and support this revolution.

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