The UK has a notable and longstanding problem with housing, which requires urgent action to address before it escapes the reach of the market. Namely, there is a huge shortage of residential properties, particularly the loosely termed affordable housing.
Addressing this issue will require the concerted effort of all stakeholders across both the private and public sectors. While some steps have been taken to incentivise more housebuilding, it is becoming increasingly clear that more radical solutions are needed.
Here, I explore several key methods of boosting the UK’s housing stock.
Build more houses
A straightforward response, but worth closer consideration. Build completions rose by only 1% between 2018 and 2020, highlighting a lacking incentive for the private sector to mass-produce houses at scale. Carefully preserving record house price levels are simply, for most developers, more lucrative in the short and long term than constructing large quantities of housing stock.
This is the frank truth we must accept. And as such, the government should look to break this economic barrier by extending tax breaks, grants, and public-private partnerships to benefit developers who can commit to building more properties, with a particular focus on areas of need such as provincial countryside and ‘levelling up’ towns.
Failure to do so will simply see the UK continue to fall well short of the ambitious target to build in excess of 300,000 new homes each year.
Follow the trends
Domestic buyers are choosier than ever. Building properties to a certain specification – particularly in the area of green and thermally-efficient builds – are increasingly popular, providing assurance of sustainability and long-term cost savings.
While these innovative structures can be a headache to construct in built-up urban areas, taking advantage of vast existing plots in rural areas to meet the pandemic-inspired urban exodus to the countryside could be an interesting investment for developers.
Bring in more investment
There is a striking number of approved developments that run out of funding mid-build and could not be completed. Developers and councils must cooperate more closely to complete these projects, saving on time and resources by navigating around the planning system, and producing housing stock faster than new instructions.
Renovate and relist
Local councils already have the power to draw derelict or disused buildings back into productive use. In England, there are an estimated 268,385 long-term empty properties. While many will require investment in renovation and modernising, this would be a highly cost-effective use of resources to address the housing crisis.
As with the completion of half-finished developments, here the focus must be on using existing projects and properties – getting them back on the open market will take some creativity, but will be simpler than starting entirely new projects.
This will naturally be controversial but is arguably necessary given the severity of the issue. A fine balance must be struck – not all land should be built on, and all development should meet certain requirements and standards. However, a slight relaxing of planning laws could allow towns and city suburbs to unlock the potential of existing plots of land, and entice investors and developers to look into projects which would otherwise have been dismissed due to concerns over planning regulations. Fortunately, this is already being addressed by the government.
Jamie Johnson is the CEO of FJP Investment, an introducer of UK and overseas property-based investments to a global audience of high net-worth and sophisticated investors, institutions as well as family offices. Founded in 2013, the business also partners with developers in order to provide them with a readily accessible source of funding for their development projects.