Adam Smith Inst - A step in the right direction, but the housing White Paper is still a missed opportunity
Ben Southwood, Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute, responded to the government's housing White Paper
”UK housing has needed a shake-up for decades, and although today’s White Paper is a welcome step in the right direction, it might well be remembered as a missed opportunity.
Sajid Javid seems to understand Britain’s housing problems in a way that previous communities secretaries have not. However, many of the bold ideas that had been floated in the past few months have been dropped, presumably because not all his colleagues recognise the scale of the problem.
The government now finally acknowledges that housing demand is local—building housing in Doncaster or Rochdale will not relieve pressure in Cambridge or Bristol. It also understands that density does not have to mean Brutalist tower blocks, and it sees building in popular styles—such as mansion blocks and terraced houses—as one way to overcome local opposition to development.
But ultimately this is not the white paper we were hoping for. Knowing the problems is not the same as solving them, and changing council targets may end up having no appreciable impact on the market as a whole.
Seeing the green belt as a last resort for development is another mistake: much of it is ugly scrap land or intensive farmland with little amenity and high environmental costs. It is also an error to force developers to rapidly build on any sites they have permission for—the only reason they don’t do this already is our strict planning laws, and raising the costs of building further may actually prevent needed developments.
Like many others, we’re disappointed: there’s very little today that tackles the green belt, height restrictions, or perverse incentives that make people oppose development. But it would be a mistake to let that blind us to the steps forward in this, small as they may be.”
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