Shepley on ... meeting real housing needs

Pundits say the housing crisis is over. That's the "crisis" involving middle-class people and falling house prices, by the way, not the one affecting those living in abject misery.

If the news is true, have we wasted an opportunity to end the assumption that the market alone will provide the housing we need?

After 30 years of this experiment, let's ask some questions. Has sufficient housing of a decent quality been provided? No. Housing associations won't take on many of the new dwellings offered. Is it affordable? Obviously not. Owner occupation is not even a dream for many, and the largely unregulated private rental sector can be a nightmare.

Is it the right type of housing? By and large, no. There are too many little flats and not enough for families or older people. Has it improved the lot of the poorest? Definitely not. Figures on the Shelter website show 1.7 million households on local authority housing waiting lists and 500,000 overcrowded homes. We should be ashamed to be part of a system that has led to this, even if planning is more of a scapegoat than a cause.

The Housing and Planning Act 1909 has reached its centenary. The minister at the time, John Burns, said the bill "seeks to improve the health of the people by raising the character of the house and the home and by extended inspection, supervision, direction and guidance of central control to help local authorities to do more than they now do". About half way between then and now, we found a middle way that looked like solving the problem. It was not perfect, but the belated return to council housing suggests that even the government thinks that a mixed approach may have something to offer.

Chris Shepley is principal of Chris Shepley Planning and a former chief planning inspector for England and Wales.


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