Plastic Surgeon’s Managing Director, Rob Mouser talks about the UK housing crisis:
According to the Home Builders Federation, across England the year 2012/13 had one of the lowest rates for completions since 1923 – with just 108,190 homes finished; at a time when Government says we need to be building some 220,000 properties a year until at least 2031 to meet demand. And this figure should apparently be viewed as the minimum.
Meanwhile, the price of the average home purchased is now almost seven times the average annual salary of the buyer, so affordability is now a real issue. Also demand for social or council housing has almost doubled in the last 10 years to 1.85 million households, with around 5 million people on waiting lists.
There are a variety of factors at work driving this demand. Greater longevity and net inward migration have combined with social factors such as family breakdown to change the country’s demographics.
While it is often said that Britain is a small island and that we can’t cope with more building, the statistics surprisingly show a different picture: while 10% of the total land area is already developed, this rises to 12% in the South East (excluding London), but of these urban areas, a large proportion comprises people’s gardens, parks and natural environments. In fact only around 2.27% of England has actually been ‘concreted over’ or carries structures. You do, though, have to accept that the infrastructure required to support new housing may well see this percentage increase.
So if the figures show that we do have more than enough space to house people, why aren’t we getting on with the job? Affordability remains a real issue for individuals, but the recession also meant that there has been a short supply on credit to the major housebuilders, while the Barker Review on housing supply from 2004 highlighted that our planning system is not fit for purpose.
So, what can we do to tackle our considerable housing shortage? The Coalition has been attempting to rebalance the planning system so that there is a strong presumption in favour of development, while the Bank of England is reporting improving money supply conditions.
Incredibly there are an estimated 700,000 empty homes in England that could be feasibly and affordably upgraded to create comfortable accommodation; using a combination of repair, refurbishment and conversion.
Basically, granting planning permission for new plots and finding the funds to develop them will only provide part of the answer; and we should therefore regard keeping some three-quarters of a million homes void as a scandal to be addressed by all means available.