Build, Build Build but, more houses?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s current mantra is to “build, build build and is attacking the planning laws in England for holding up more house building. His manifesto promised 300,000 in England but latest comments suggest only 180,000. It ignores the fact that most building proposals have been approved and the blame may lie in that there have been 18 English Housing Minsters since 1997. but, is building more houses on its own the correct policy.

I think it’s more important for the United Kingdom to reconsider and address the long-term challenges and opportunities our society faces. And that means a more integrated quality-based approach based on a shared vision of the kind of places we want to live in. Let’s identify these challenges in more detail:

  1. There is a housing challenge. Plenty of luxury flats are built but not enough affordable (whatever that means) family homes. The key priorities do not match the types of housing now being built and wanted by developers (the profit motive).
  2. There is a climate challenge. We are not doing anything like enough to meet the 1.5℃ Paris target, with 3℃ or more of warming now more likely. Houses need to be built with a strong emphasis on building in a way that helps the transition to a greener lower carbon future and with a high priority given to builders to help in retrofitting of existing housing stock.
  3. There is a biodiversity challenge. The state of UK nature is declining year on year with many species on the brink of extinction. Biodiversity forms the backbone of viable ecosystems on which we depend on for basic necessities, security and health. This diversity makes us more resilient to change and uncertainty in much the same way as investing in a diverse range of stocks protects a financial portfolio from uncertainty.
  4. There is a health challenge. Poor housing stock and noise and air pollution, along with a lack of access to key services, all affect physical and mental health.
  5. There is a poverty and social justice challenge. The gap between the haves and have-not’s is widening. Here child poverty is a major issue. The planning system was founded on the need for improved social justice, yet in recent years this has been conspicuously absent.
  6. There is a public engagement challenge. Ordinary people should be able to understand and engage with planning more effectively and help co-produce the kinds of sustainable places they want to live, work and play in. The current planning system in all the UK is too complex and too adversarial. A key opportunity is for the public to be more involved in planning processes which should be based on modern interactive “e-planning” and not dense and static PDF files. 

These challenges are all interlinked and collectively should form the key principles on which a better and more joined-up house building system should be built. That will also affect the way the planning system works. However, what that planning system looks like is not for me or anyone to dictate in a top-down fashion. We urgently need better diagnoses of these challenges and integrated interventions, so that then we can then design better governance and delivery frameworks that are less complex and fragmented.

I fear that government’s will continue on their present trajectory, and fail to bring in major reforms to their policies on addressing the changes each community needs. That is not “good planning”.