Housing White Paper

This week the Government published a White Paper on housing.  ‘Fixing Our Broken Housing Market’ has a laudable aim: to make housing more affordable for young people.

The gulf between local house prices and what a young couple can afford today really concerns me.

As recently as the 1990s, a first-time buyer couple on a low-to-middle income saving 5 per cent of their wages each month would have enough for an average-sized deposit after just three years.  Today it would take them 24 years.

It’s no surprise that home ownership among 25 to 34-year-olds has fallen from 59 per cent just over a decade ago to just 37 per cent today.  By 2020 only a quarter of 30-year-olds will own their own home.

High house prices affect more than ownership.  Rents are high, too, and in turn housing benefit now costs the taxpayer £27 billion a year.

The Government echoes the widespread belief that the simple cause of high prices is an imbalance between supply and demand, with too few homes being built. 

I think the causes are more complex, and that as well as supply prices are affected by mortgage rates and incomes.

To be fair, the Government doesn’t just say that councils are planning for too few homes.  It also says that building is too slow, and the construction industry is too reliant on a small number of big companies.

So measures to require developers who secure planning permissions to get on and build, and to encourage more custom build by smaller companies, are welcome.

So too is a focus on infrastructure, because one of our biggest local concerns is that development comes with insufficient provision for services like schools, GPs and roads.

We will need to watch some of the proposals carefully.  The Government is consulting about how councils should assess local housing need in future.  I suspect they’ll want councils to arrive at even higher housing numbers.

But if ‘need’ in West Sussex is crudely equated with demand, our housing targets could just go on rising, because the demand to live in our area is endless.  Housing numbers need to be set at levels which reflect local need but also the capacity of the area to deliver.

Balancing the competing aims of protecting our countryside and villages while providing more housing is one of the most difficult of local issues.  There are some good ideas in the White Paper to help.

Nick Herbert