The UK still faces a housing crisis, although the gap between supply and demand is closing in many parts of the country. And while yesterday's annoucement of an Infastructure Fund in the Autumn Statement is a step in the right direction, after all, it's important to remember that 'I' comes before 'E', Infrastructure before Expansion, the shortage is still a national challenge.
The planning system has often been pinpointed as a contributing factor. But while a lot of effort has been put into streamlining the planning system to make it more responsive and efficient, the results are still patchy. The question is, why?
Many local authorities tend to put a lot of eggs in only a few baskets, namely big urban extensions, new settlements and garden villages in regional centres such as Cambridge.
These high-profile projects have lots of advantages in terms of economies of scale and they appeal politically as they are contained and an easier story to sell. But these schemes often fall short due to local planning laws and their long lead-in times – and if they don't perform, it leaves a gaping hole in the housing figures, which is hard to fill at short notice. Given the urgency of the housing crisis, that is a high risk strategy.
A combined approach may prove to be more effective in many regions of the UK. The larger, high-profile sites provide more 'bang for your buck' and are still important, but smaller brownfield sites, infills and rounding offs are commonly fleeter of foot. They can appeal more to the buyer too by offering greater variety of location and lifestyle, and help sustain local facilities and communities. However, planners and politicians often see these sites as locally controversial as they may mean losing a redundant factory, extending a village, or cutting into the countryside, for example.
So, let’s hear it for the great British compromise and distribute those eggs a little more evenly. A better balance could help solve the housing crisis.