The price of land is a huge barrier to house-building, by councils or developers. Lease to individuals, and the equation changes
Lord Porter, the chairman of the Local Government Association, has proposed to “set forth a million builders” by giving residents a role in the design and construction of council-built homes. It’s the latest sign of a radical common sense that is slowly making its way into housing policy, but if government truly wants to unlock the “citizen sector”, there’s an easier way.
Slowly, all the political parties are now waking up to the realisation that private developers will never build the number or quality of homes that Britain needs. This is not because developers are just greedy or immoral – it’s because their business model is perfectly designed to make sure they have no incentive to do so. No amount of subsidy or regulation will change that.
A new consensus is emerging that, once again, it will be councils who will have the lead role in tackling housing need. And with greater power to borrow, they will be able to.
The result would produce places that are genuinely affordable, sustainable and loved by the people who live there
But there are a few catches. First, like any developer, councils’ bandwidth is limited. Building a thousand homes takes a million hours of attention. Second, even though there is no shortage of land (tens of thousands of undeveloped small sites already under public ownership), are local communities really going to support thousands of cookie-cutter, council-built homes popping up in their neighbourhoods? Third, there will always be a temptation to go for numbers, and compromise on quality, instead of investing in building generous, healthy, low-energy homes and resilient neighbourhoods that meet people’s (diverse) needs, and really allow them to put down roots.