Brick by brick: Theresa May turns on developers to address the UK’s housing crisis

  • Matthew Sutton

By Matthew Sutton, Senior Account Manager

Today Theresa May announced the Government’s most comprehensive plans to date in tackling the UK housing crisis, in what was a ‘put up or shut up’ warning to developers to speed up their current building programmes as a means of alleviating the UK’s housing crisis.

After a week dominated by Brexit, the Prime Minister returned to her domestic agenda in a flagship speech on housing where she vowed to make it her personal mission to tackle the housing crisis, calling on homebuilders to “do their duty” and build new houses more quickly to meet demand.

Mrs May has made tackling the long-term housing shortage one of her top domestic priorities, as a means to deliver on her original promise on the steps of Downing Street of building “a country that works for everyone”. Announcing a shake-up of planning rules, she said the “crisis of unaffordability” in housing was enforcing deep social inequality between people of different generations and different economic backgrounds, while making social mobility almost impossible.

As part of her speech, the Prime Minister said that planning rules would be re-written in order to streamline the process and cut red tape with councils that continually fail to build adequate homes finding themselves having to meet minimum housing targets.

Elsewhere, assurances were made that there would be strong protection for the green belt, ancient woodlands and historic coastlines. The Prime Minister clarified that developers and local authorities must only allocate green belt sites for development for exceptional reasons. Should development have to go ahead it must first make use of brown field sites, and where land is removed, they must create new spaces.

There was also encouragement for developers to build upwards in cities and a ‘use it or lose it’ policy on land owned by developers with planning permission. The Prime Minister also warned that those developers who are too slow to build houses will find that their past record could count against them when they bid for new planning permissions.

The Prime Minister also highlighted what she viewed as the ‘perverse incentive’ in the bonus structure of some house builders which does not encourage them to build homes that are affordable. While progress has been made in building more homes with over 217,000 new homes built in 2017, May said that for decades there has been a failure to build enough of the right homes in the right places.

Mrs May went on to confirm that around 80 of the proposals set out in last year’s Housing White Paper would be implemented, including using land more efficiently, fast tracking planning permissions into homes, giving greater certainty to local authorities and putting local plans in place to give communities more control.

The Prime Minister urged councils to do all they could to find sites, grant planning permissions and build homes including through adopting a new nationwide standard that shows how many homes authorities need to plan for in their area. In addition, the Prime Minister also promised that the right community infrastructure would put in place to support developments and the planning changes will also allow more affordable homes to be prioritised for key workers, including nurses, teachers, and firefighters.

Theresa May’s speech today marked another attempt by Mrs May to flesh out a domestic policy agenda that goes beyond Brexit.

The plans announced by the Prime Minister today, which represent the first major overhaul to the National Planning Policy Framework for over six years, will be subject to an eight week consultation, with the final version due to be published in the summer.


Matthew Sutton