BLOG: Manifesto for housing 2024
Published: 1 Feb, 2024

In this blog, Anna Clarke, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at The Housing Forum, discusses the critical importance of housing in upcoming election manifestos, outlining key policy recommendations to address housing supply, affordability, and quality.

What should election manifestos include on housing?

The Housing Forum is a cross-sector membership organisation for the housing sector. Our members come from across the entire sector – from the construction trade, manufacturers and architects, to housebuilders and social landlords. All support our mission of a quality home for all. We’ve drawn on this cross-sector expertise to create our Manifesto for Housing 2024. This sets out the policies we would like to see in party manifestos for the coming election. The asks reflect the needs of the housing sector and include 25 suggestions addressing housing supply and quality, in addition to affordable housing.

Having worked for many years in academia prior to joining The Housing Forum, I’m aware of the valuable work that CaCHE does in developing links between academia, policy and practice. Academics can be influential in steering the policy agenda, and I would like to strengthen the connections between researchers and the housing sector.

The first key ask in our Manifesto is to ensure that housing is at the heart of decision-making and to work across departments to make housing a top five Government priority.   This is about moving housing up the political agenda – to recognise homes as being as important to people as health or education. Unlike healthcare or education, we expect the private sector to deliver most of the new housing that’s needed but don’t always create the right conditions for it to do so or work effectively in partnerships. We put a growing number of asks on new and existing housing – to decarbonise, reduce water usage, increase biodiversity or provide cross-subsidy for new infrastructure which means that a cross-departmental approach to housing is needed, where all work together to build the homes and communities of the future.

There is an urgent shortage of affordable housing, resulting in overcrowding and growing levels of homelessness. We’re calling on government to create a Housing Accelerator Fund to tackle the affordable housing backlog. This would be £4bn fund to provide 60,000 new affordable rented homes to reduce homelessness by half over three years. The time to do this is now – the housebuilding sector is currently struggling to maintain output due to a weaker housing market. Housebuilding is inherently a risky activity, and a market downturn can cause firms to contract or go out of business quite quickly; we know from our membership that a slowdown in housebuilding has repercussions throughout the construction sector and supply chains. We also know that firms struggle to grow quickly or enter the market even when the market recovers, so supporting the sector through a downturn can help maintain capacity to build faster when conditions allow. There are many ways to do this, but funding affordable housing provides a double benefit as it provides immediate homes to those in need and takes the pressure off local authority budgets for temporary accommodation.

If you ask housebuilders what the main barrier is to building more homes faster, they always cite the planning system. Planning has become more complex in recent years, as additional requirements around building safety and environmental protections are placed on the system. However, local authority budgets are stretched very thin, and it’s always going to be difficult to justify spending money on planners, rather than, say, social care, where there are statutory duties and the effects of not spending are immediate. Our local authority members tell us they’re unable to process planning applications as they would like because they are understaffed. They are forced to cut resourcing for pre-application discussions, which can be a great way to work cooperatively with developers to ensure that the applications bring forward the kind of new housing they want, in line with their vision for their area. We’re therefore calling on government to better resource the planning system by improving recruitment and retention, and elevating the status of planners, underpinned by a strong performance monitoring system. We’ve recently published two reports on how to streamline the planning system, and improve validation requirements, which cover this in more detail,

There are ongoing debates about where is best to build new housing. Brownfield sites – usually found within existing towns and cities – are clearly a great place to build. However, it can cost a lot more to develop them, as the land may require remediation to clear up the results of its former usage. In weaker housing markets in particular, funding may be needed to incentivise building on brownfield sites, with flexible and long-term funding where required. However, even with this, brownfield sites are insufficient to provide all our housing needs, especially in the areas where the housing shortage is most acute, such as the south-east. We’d therefore like to see government support local authorities to work together on strategic reviews of greenbelt land. This may involve building on brownfield sites within greenbelts and/or moving greenbelts further out to allow cities to grow.

The way we build homes and the way we heat and insulate them are changing rapidly. From 2025, all new homes will be off-gas, most of them heated via heat pumps or heat networks. Existing homes will need to be upgraded, improving their insulation and replacing gas boilers with heat pumps or other alternatives. Once the grid is fully sourced from renewable power sources, homes will then be decarbonised. This is a fundamental revolution in how we build and power homes but it requires a bigger workforce with new skills, which is why we are calling on government to skill up the workforce to deliver and maintain the homes of the future.

Poor housing quality causes homelessness, damages health and reduces opportunities in life. It contributes to carbon emissions and fuel poverty. Housing shortages make housing unaffordable and hold back economic growth as well as trapping people in poverty. Fixing our housing crisis won’t be easy – and will require a long-term strategy with upfront spending – but we believe there is a way forward.

The next election will be a crucial opportunity to put housing firmly on the agenda, and we are keen to reach out to others across the housing sector to discuss our Manifesto proposals and other ideas for building a better housing system where everyone has access to a good quality home.

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