The United Kingdom is suffering from a housing crisis caused by a chronic lack of new homes being built.
A new paper by John Myers of London YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard), released today in conjunction with the Adam Smith Institute, offers three ways to beat the housing crisis, boost living standards and disposable incomes, and revitalise the economy.
Households would be on average £10,000 a year better off if we had better planning and built enough homes in the right places, shows John Myers, author of the report.
Shortages of housing near job opportunities lead to high rents and prices. These prevent young people – as well as those from deprived communities – from moving to areas which have good jobs. This is a needless and self-inflicted brake on growth.
After a string of prominent rejections of developments, such as the redevelopment of an ASDA and its car park on the Isle of Dogs into nearly 2,000 new homes, it is more important than ever to reform the planning system so that residents feel they benefit from new housing. The alternative is economic stagnation, social divide, and potentially political turmoil.
The report suggests three practical proposals to win the support of existing homeowners for development that makes the country richer and fairer:
Letting individual streets give themselves planning permission to extend or replace buildings. This, coupled with a design code chosen by the street, could allow up to 5 million new homes to be built over a generation in London alone, while making existing homeowners two to three times better off and beautifying streets by turning semis and bungalows into traditional terraces.
Giving local parishes the power to improve their green belt by swapping out ugly dead land or intensive farmland for development and adding protections to areas of outstanding beauty.
Handing the new set of devolved city-region mayors radical new powers to choose different planning regimes for their area, to see what works best. What’s right for London might not be right for Leeds, and Birmingham may want to grow even if Cambridge does not.
Politicians could neutralise NIMBYs, the paper argues, by seizing the opportunity and letting local people take the lead on deciding how and where to build new homes.
By giving more power to locals, the billions of pounds spent on armies of planning lawyers and consultants could be retained within communities. The reforms would also benefit the exchequer, not just through property taxation, but also as people move closer to better jobs and earn more.
Failing to end our housing crisis will most hurt those that can least afford it, according to the report. Those who are just about managing (Theresa May’s JAMS) will pay the price for inaction—once you take into account housing costs real incomes are completely stagnant.
Paying through the ear to rent a box or a dump is radicalising the youth, but politicians stand to benefit hugely if they can make housing within reach of job opportunities abundant and affordable. The UK can avoid clarion calls for rent controls or mass social housing if we act to expand private housebuilding now.
Britain has one of the worst housing crises in the world, the report shows, but that should mean benefits of even partial reforms are felt greatest here.
Simple changes could substantially increase the supply of new homes, boost the economy, tackle intergenerational inequality and improve social mobility, while making our existing cities better. It is time to build a better country.
John Myers, co-founder of London YIMBY and author of the report, said:
“A new generation of young people is demanding change to avoid being worse off than their parents. There are vote-winning ways to make decent homes truly affordable with the support of existing homeowners, if only we seize them.”
Ben Southwood, Head of Research at the ASI, said:
“The planning system is a mess. We all know we need more homes and infrastructure in the places people actually want them—but it isn’t delivering. But we can hardly blame locals for blocking development when not only does it blight their views with ugly designs, but it detracts from their living standards. So we are proposing a raft of measures that may bring homeowners around the country on-side. If new housing benefits people already living there, then we may finally be able to build enough to stop rents taking half of people’s pay packets.”