Philip Barnes – Blog


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Perhaps the two words I see most in my job are housing crisis.  But by what measure can it be said that we have such a crisis?

The case for justifying the term housing crisis seems pretty clear cut when looking at the statistical measures relating to systemic under supply and lack of affordability.  Not to mention the stripping away of home ownership dreams for a whole generation and the thousands living in poor quality rented accommodation too small for their needs.

But when we compare that statistical position against political or sustainability factors the position seems far less certain.

Lets look first at the three limbs of sustainability – social, economic and environmental.  How does the housing “crisis” relate to these in political importance.

Thinking of an economic crisis most will recall watching the “run” on Northern Rock with horrific foreboding.  The Government response was swift and decisive.  £40bn later most of the UK banking industry was in state hands and the employees of EC1 could breathe again – albeit the rest of us were required to deal with five years of recession.  Again I recall the collective political will act decisively to protect the national economic interest.

Mad cow disease was a genuine social/public health crisis.  A clear risk to health in large parts of the country.  A gigantic Government response costing billions was deployed with military assistance.  It was inconceivable that any politician would have considered arguing against the required response, either locally or nationally.

In environmental terms thoughts turn to the Torrey Canyon disaster.  An oil slick containing 120,000 tons of crude oil caused by a ships master taking a short cut around the Scilly Isles. The Government response involved over 10,000 tons of detergent and a strategy of setting the oil slick alight with the help of RAF bombers dropping 42 incendiary bombs.

So three crises.  All with a swift, decisive and well funded Government response.

But how can the “housing crisis” be called a crisis when some MPs feel able to campaign for election on the basis of stopping new homes being built in their constituency?  How can it be called a crisis when a Member of the Shadow Cabinet campaigned ceaselessly in their constituency against a housing development which the local council was keen to bring forward to meet a clear need?  And how can it be a crisis when local newspapers up and down the land claim victory whenever a contentious housing proposal is refused planning permission?

I guess many people using the words “housing crisis” are those, like me, who have a vested interest in wanting to see more new homes built. Housebuilders, developers, housing associations, housing charities and consultants to the housing sector.  Perhaps out there in the real world most politicians have been happy to talk about a housing crisis in interviews whilst ruling out any “crisis response” actions that may be deemed unpopular to their electorate.

Yet all the while the huge social and economic problems caused by having too few homes pile up and up.

‘Twas ever thus’ – only the use of the term housing crisis is new.  At least now we do seem to have a (second term) Government which seems prepared to introduce some policies which should genuinely increase the supply of new homes.

Author: philipbarnesblog

Group Land and Planning Director for Barratt Developments PLC. FRTPI, FRICS

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