The year has barely begun and the Government has already made two new announcements aimed at accelerating the building of new homes in the shape of new garden settlements and local authority partnerships to bring forward Starter Homes.
Neither plan will solve the housing crisis on its own. But the early start acknowledges the scale of the task ahead, a desire for more radical action and the need to keep housing in the headlines.
Both announcements come ahead of the long-awaited Housing White Paper expected this month which should put more flesh on the bones of these ideas. We need realistic, careful planning and above all more detail if the big numbers bandied about are to be turned into reality.
We estimate England needs to build some 300,000 new homes to address housing need as well as the pent up demand that has built up after years of undersupply. This is well above the Government’s ambition to deliver one million new homes by 2020, which roughly translates into 200,000 homes a year, a figure that is already close to being delivered depending on which stats you pick. So how do the recent announcements match up?
In an expansion of the existing garden settlements programme, 14 new garden villages with the potential to deliver more than 48,000 new homes across England received Government backing. This is in addition to three new garden towns in Aylesbury, Taunton and Harlow & Gilston.
According to the Government, these 17 new settlements, together with the seven garden towns that were previously announced, have the potential to provide almost 200,000 new homes across the country.
New settlements are essential for bringing forward additional homes in new places with the amenities required to support generations to come. Garden villages and towns are therefore not just about housing numbers but also about creating new schools, shops, doctors surgeries and all the other facilities modern human life requires.
2017 will see the first Starter Homes built on brownfield sites across the country, according to Gavin Barwell. The first wave of 30 local authority partnerships to build new Starter Homes backed by the £1.2billion Starter Homes Land Fund were picked on the basis of their potential for early delivery.
These new homes will be sold to first-time buyers aged between 23 and 40 years at a discount of at least 20 per cent, although there could be some flexibility around how Starter Homes are structured. But as our map shows above, very few of the first tranche are in the South East where affordability is stretched and demand is high.
There is more to come. The Homes and Communities Agency received 79 expressions of interest from 120 local authorities across the country outside London. (The capital is being treated separately.)
The original DCLG document on the Starter Homes Land Fund published in March 2016 stated that the Fund’s target to bring forward sufficient land for at least 30,000 Starter Homes. The document also mentioned an expectation that each partnership is capable of delivering between 300 and 600 Starter Homes across several sites.
On this basis, the 30 named partnerships could bring forward between 9,000 and 18,000 new homes. This suggests a need to double the number of local authority partnerships involved to reach the target. Given that the first wave of partnerships were picked because of their potential for fast delivery, the next wave, by implication, will be more difficult to deliver and take longer to come forward.
Yet where future Starter Homes partnerships emerge, or any other Government initiative is targeted, will be crucial to solving the housing crisis. We need more homes in places of greatest demand and affordability is most stretched.
Policy helps. But schemes such as Starter Homes must do more than replace market housing which might have been built by private developers anyway. New schemes are most effective if they support delivery on sites which would not otherwise come forward or are more difficult to deliver and therefore really lead to additional homes being built and as quickly as possible.
This was the original aim of Starter Homes Land Fund and is also the purpose of more recent initiatives such as the £1.7bn Accelerated Construction Fund announced last autumn.
We need more detail on Starter Homes before they can be become a reality. Bring on the Housing White Paper.
Read more: Starter Homes