Coalition ‘could preside over lowest level of house building since 1920s’

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

Guardian Policy Exchange thinktank says 270,000 fewer new homes are being planned after abolition of regional targets in 2010.

Local authorities in England have cut by 270,000 the number of new homes planned following the government's abolition of regional planning targets in 2010, the Policy Exchange has claimed.

In a report the centre-right thinktank says that getting rid of regional spatial strategies (RSSs) had contributed to a situation whereby "the coalition could end up presiding over the lowest level of house building since the 1920s".

The area most affected, it says, is the south-west, where the number of houses planned has fallen by 108,380, amounting to an 18% drop.

Regional spatial strategies were introduced by the last Labour government; English regions were given Whitehall targets for homes to be built.

The Policy Exchange calls the RSS system flawed as house completion targets were routinely missed.

Since 2010 councils have had new powers to set housing targets. The thinktank says that consequently the number of homes planned for England has fallen by 272,720, or 7%.

After the south-west, the regions most affected were the south-east, it says, where the number of homes planned had fallen by 57,049 (9%), and the West Midlands, where the number had dropped by 31,559 (8%).

The Policy Exchange says that even though the RSS targets were seldom reached, an introduction of lower targets would lead to fewer homes being built because the targets would determine the amount of land released for housing.

"As things stand, housing starts and completions are stuck at just over 100,000 a year, well below the total in local authority plans and very far below the sort of figure that might make a dent in the country's acknowledged housing shortfall."

The thinktank did not advocate the return of RSS targets to boost house building.

"Over-reliance on targets did not work before and it is unlikely to work in the future. A sustained increase in house building will depend on reforming many other aspects of the planning system, not just the numbers."

The thinktank's report calls for greater use to be made of empty buildings and brownfield sites, and incentives for neighbourhoods approving new housing.

But a spokeswoman for the communities department called the Policy Exchange analysis flawed for not allowing for the fact that RSS targets "had not worked".

The spokeswoman said: "Top-down regional targets didn't work and built nothing but resentment. It is meaningless to point to targets which were never going to be built. It was under regional strategies that house building fell to its lowest peacetime rates since the 1920s.

"As promised in the coalition agreement, this government is abolishing the ineffective, unpopular and bureaucratic tier of regional planning. Instead, it is simplifying the planning system and has introduced the new homes bonus to work with local communities, not against them."

She also said that new housing supply was at its highest level since 2008, up 11% on last year.

By Andrew Sparrow

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