Fyson on... research that tackles issues raised by the supply anddemand for levels of affordable housing

An unfortunate characteristic of some comfortably housed critics of the government is that they advocate action to tackle demand for housing and deride supply-side increases as reflecting a "slavish obsession with housing at all costs".

A few of these house-haters were present at last week's Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) seminar to launch Planning for Housing Affordability, a report from consultancy Green Balance. But others made a constructive attempt to grapple with the complex issues surrounding affordability.

The report title implies that planning can help solve the problem, although the revealing subtitle reads: "Why providing more land for house building will not reduce house prices". Debaters accepted the distinction between allocating land and building houses on it, and seemed to agree that the latter is the more effective influence on the housing market.

However, discussion then veered towards criticising the government for implying that there is a simple relationship between building more houses and lower prices. Research was cited to show that only the slightest reductions can be achieved by building more in the short to medium term and that the problem is that many people either have too little wealth to buy a high-priced home or, paradoxically, that through mortgages they have too much, which itself keeps prices high.

In vain, the government's spokespeople pointed out that its concern is for the long term and that the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit (NHPAU) analysis is far from simple because it is based not only on demand but also on demographic projections, household formation, tenure choice and inter-regional migration. An NHPAU representative denied that affordability is only about house building totals, but observed that a shortfall in supply will have some effect on prices.

Even the CPRE could hardly disagree. Its own report concludes that "large levels of house building, additional to current supplies and sustained over many years, would reduce house prices". This pretty well describes government policy and the result it expects to achieve.

It may be that Kate Barker left a hostage to fortune by emphasising increased housing land allocations, but the government policy response is merely to insist that local authorities keep a five-year supply of deliverable housing land. The report's author declared that "only some really bad planning would bring prices down", but then accepted that there is a house building gap. The trick is to build the right kind of green dwellings in the right places and in the right numbers, but that is another debate.

Anthony Fyson is a freelance writer on planning issues.


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