As RICS calls housing a “national emergency”, are UK politicians incapable of fixing the crisis?

Stephanie Lis and Duncan O’Leary
The UK needs more houses (Source: Getty)

Stephanie Lis, who works for the Institute of Economic Affairs, says Yes

Politicians of all stripes have been woeful in their attempts to deal with the UK’s escalating housing crisis. While all the main parties have acknowledged the symptoms of our dysfunctional market – which has seen prices increase more than fourfold in real terms since 1970 – there has been a complete failure to admit that the fundamental cause of this rise is government policies themselves.

There is indisputable evidence that the UK’s rigid planning laws are the cause of structurally high prices, yet we see politicians attempt to circumvent this with plans for state housebuilding programmes. Rather than cutting swathes of red tape, government is simply exempting itself from existing regulations at the expense of the private sector.

The only credible answer is to relax planning restrictions – particularly on greenbelt sites. Although this may be tough politically, until it happens, there is little hope of housing becoming more affordable.

Duncan O’Leary, deputy director of Demos, says No

Governments can make a huge difference in tackling the housing crisis, for good and ill. An example of the latter is the decision to uphold blanket protection for the greenbelt, which continues to prevent new homes from being built. But deregulation is not enough on its own. After all, while the housing market is a market, it is not a free market and nor should it be.

Land is finite, especially in areas people want to live in, and the state has a strong role to play in championing planning policies that support the increase of supply – and at a price people can afford. But to truly address the scale of the shortfall, we will need to see government involve itself again in building – which has, historically, been the only way Britain has ever built enough houses.

The government can build on public land, from disused RAF airfields to old NHS sites. And it can take advantage of preferential borrowing rates to finance new developments.

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