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It is clear from what we have already heard that the Secretary of State, the Government’s previous housing White Paper and Labour’s Front-Bench team all agree that house building is in crisis, and I agree with that. There are many possible solutions, but I wish to propose just two in the limited time that I have, which, if we start now, could be big and bold enough to make a difference.
The first is to overhaul our slow, expensive, uncertain and conflict-ridden planning laws to give people a legal right to build up, not out, in towns and cities without needing planning permission. I am talking about creating good-looking four and five-storey town houses and mansion blocks rather than sky-high tower blocks, and about giving back local character to our town and cityscapes by letting councils issue local design codes, so that new buildings match local architectural styles or use local materials, killing off town estates of identical homes, which all look the same no matter where one is in the country. Building up, not out, will transform house building, whether it is to own or to rent. Most of Britain’s towns and cities are, on average, two storeys tall, so going up to four or five storeys in urban areas would almost double, at a stroke, the amount of buildable living space in British homes.
Britain’s housing associations are right behind the idea. The scheme would attract much-needed new investment to regenerate and save tired or rundown town and city centres. It would be greener because building in towns and cities would cut urban sprawl, taking pressure off green fields, and letting people live closer to work and commute less. It would also encourage those small and medium-sized builders that we were hearing about before and new entrants to the house building industry, breaking the power of the big housing developers who currently ration supply to keep prices high. This would make housing cheaper for hard-pressed 20 or 30-somethings, whether they want to rent or buy.
My second idea is to get people building faster once planning permission is granted and to give local communities a share in the value that is created when permission is given. At the moment, the value of an acre of land goes up by at least 10 times—often by a whole lot more—when it gets planning permission. That happens before a single brick has been laid or a single home has been built. The value of actually designing and building beautiful houses to rent or buy is far less than the trading gains made by land speculators.