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Read below an article featured in Northern Insight Magazine written by Jon Tweddell.

Housing crisis can only be fixed if we all show more flexibility

By Jon Tweddell
Director of JT Planning

Housing and the problems around supply are never far away from media headlines or the political agenda.

This last month has seen issues around housing back in the spotlight. Headlines range from ‘broken housing market’ to a ‘housing crisis’ with our Prime Minister recently announcing it’s her personal mission to fix the sector.

Official figures announced in November revealed that housebuilding is at a 10-year-high, with more than 217, 000 homes completed in England this year. A significant step in the right direction, but still short of the government’s own target.

We simply don’t have enough good quality homes; we need to build more to meet demand from a rising population, while responding to changing lifestyles; planning is about people after all.

There are a number of key areas that restrict the supply of housing. There are a small number of volume housebuilders who are powerful and control the vast majority of large, strategic sites. This stifles competition and results in a poor range of housing in many areas.

There is also some evidence that some housebuilders bank land and only release it when they can take the profits they desire. I’m certainly not here to bash big housebuilders, quite the opposite; they play a key strategic role in providing a critical mass of housing in most areas, but I do feel they could do more to vary the type, size, style and delivery of housing they can offer.

And then we have planning issues, the key sector that I am directly involved with. Local authorities can be reluctant or slow to approve big housing developments, especially if they’re regarded as controversial. Many councils are reluctant to review and revise green belts at a time people want to live in more rural, out-of-town environments. The not-in-my-back-yard brigade can be a powerful voice that also inhibits development.

I feel we have a pretty good planning system, especially since 2012 when the then Coalition Government published their National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). However, there is still a reluctance with many local authorities to embrace the principles of the NPPF, but it really depends on the planning officer you are dealing with, where we can see a huge variation in interpretation. This uncertainty doesn’t help when advising clients.

I do feel for some local authorities, they really want to do the right thing but they simply do not have the resources to deal with the volume of applications going through the system.

The planning system has been a significant constraint on rural housing as planners have been obsessed with focussing new housing where there are existing shops, facilities and public transport. I agree that most housing should be focussed into such area, but other smaller settlements can play more of a role.

Today’s younger generation face a huge problem. Affordability is a massive barrier to entry when the average house price is now eight times the average income. Today, the average age of a first-time buyer is estimated to be 32. If the overall housing supply is increased it should result in the delivery of more affordable housing.

Clearly, there are no silver bullets or magic fixes to these differing problems, and I’ve only touched on a small number of issues involved around housing supply, there are many others to consider.

Nationally, we need to see a political will and genuine drive to change the status quo. There seems to be some evidence of this and it’s positive the PM and Chancellor have intervened.

As the boss of the Nationwide recently said, the government and the private sector need to link up more; we need policies that boost supply rather than demand.

JT Planning has had some success working in sensitive locations across Northumberland, and other parts of the North East, achieving planning permissions when the odds seemed stacked against us. It takes time but a flexible approach can work and achieve development.

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