Reverse ferrets were coming thick and fast a few weeks ago, and while the pace has slowed somewhat under the new prime minister, there are still changes being made as new government ministers get their feet under the table and tackle the job at hand. One of the latest question marks is the scrapping of the scrapping of the 300,000 homes target. I know, it’s confusing.
As prime minister, Liz Truss was less than thrilled with what she called “Stalinist” housing targets. But now, Michael Gove has recommitted to the target. Are we all keeping up?
Now I know that there is a shortage of housing supply in this country. But, and bear with me here, scrapping the target was no bad thing. Clearly, we have a problem in this country and we need a plan to get it resolved, but targets without a proper strategy will not lead us to the right end result.
Putting large targets and promises on housebuilding might be a vote winner (although I suspect the housing minister turbulence of the last decade has left many doubtful of any pledges), but the focus is too narrow. And a dogged focus only on the target will simply leave other holes in the system.
We don’t just need lots of new build homes on greenfield sites targeted at first time buyers, it’s a blinkered focus that ignores the bigger picture. Those houses, and houses for families, already exist. They are just being occupied by the wrong people; those who would love to move and can’t find appropriate housing to move into. Free up all those houses, and you bring much needed fluidity to the market.
A recent report from BNP Paribas Real Estate focused on the shortfall of senior living housing units – nearly half a million are needed to account for the lack of supply as it stands. And that doesn’t take into account the expected 31 per cent increase in over 65s over the next 15 years. Our ageing population is growing, but the current housing stock, or indeed the government’s plans for future housing stock, doesn’t make any note or provision for this changing shape of the population. Which is, quite frankly, astounding.
A focus on and commitment to specialist housing would meet the growing demand as well as flooding the market with hundreds of thousands of larger homes for families, which in turn would free up first time buyer properties. A positive for the entire market.
This might sound on the surface like it is simply about shifting focus, but that’s not the whole story. The benefit of prioritising specialist housing for older people, with care and facilities which prioritise wellness included in the offering, is manifold. It frees up houses. It takes pressure off the NHS and social care systems. And importantly, at a time of financial strain, it doesn’t need Treasury money to happen. Reforms to the planning laws to expedite the building of these retirement communities would do more to drive chains than anything from the Treasury coffers.
Our current political environment makes it near impossible to keep on top of what policies will be floated, proposed formally and, heaven forbid, actually taken forward. All that I can ask is that the powers that be at least consider a win where there is one. Simply building more of one type of house, even if it does meet the 300,000 target, which, let’s be clear, is unlikely, won’t solve the challenges of our housing stock.
And, if anything, it might mean at least one U-turn doesn’t make us dizzy.