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This is the house that Brandon built

Houses are built to live in, and not to look on: therefore let use be preferred before uniformity.

That nice man Brandon Lewis has said that as far as he is concerned a successful housing plan under the Tories will see the building of 1 million homes. Yes, One. Million. New. Homes.

As he is (currently) Housing Minister, this, surely is fabulous news? Well, no, not really. Lewis aims to build these 1 million homes by the end of the next Parliament – five years hence. So that’s 200,000 a year. Still 50,000 short of the minimum target required to even start to meet our housing needs adequately.

“We’re going to do a bit less than we need to – yay for us!”. Not exactly an election-winning pledge is it? But then of course, they can say what they like as we’re stuck with them for another five years, whether we like it or not.

200,000 new homes a year would take us back to a level of house-building that we haven’t enjoyed since the end of the 1980s. We only managed to build 124,520 new homes in England between April 2014 and April 2015. Lewis is actually breaking rank with this one, since the Tories are notoriously shy of setting actual targets – lest they be found wanting when they fail to hit them, presumably.

Labour, with its pledge of 200,000 homes annually and the Lib Dems with their promise of 300,000, may be more prepared to put their heads above the parapet, but then, as they aren’t actually getting into power anytime soon, it’s rather a moot point.

Whether or not Lewis’s plans succeed will depend largely on whether there is a long-term underlying strategy to support it. Planning needs to be made easier to deal with. Both in terms of getting permission and in refusing it and appealing that refusal. When my parents sold their garden to developers some years ago, the developer decided to apply for permission to build more houses than they actually intended to. This was on the grounds that the planning authority was likely to object anyway and it would be easier and quicker to take two houses off the plans when that happened than fight to get the four houses they wanted in the first place. Where’s the sense in that?

According to the FMB, getting hold of suitable sites is becoming a major issue for smaller building companies. And, while it’s jolly nice that the Chancellor, bless his little cotton socks, wants to increase the number of brownfield sites used for new housing, the current system for doing so is pretty onerous.

We don’t just need words aimed at improving the housing supply situation, we need a proper strategy and, dare I say it, funding. The private housebuilding sector can only do so much to fill the housing void. We need councils and housing associations to be able to do their bit too.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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