Architects set out what needs to be done to improve UK housing market

Housing policy alone is not enough to solve the UK’s housing crisis whose roots are as complex as they are varied, according to architects.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBS) says that as demand for new homes continues to outstrip supply successive governments have failed to keep up and it believes that the only solution lies in bringing together the public and private sector to promote, enable and finance new homes, and improve the quality of homes.

In a new report it points out that high quality design needs to be at the heart of the solution. ‘Without it, we’ll be solving one problem by storing up further challenges for the future,’ it says in a anew analysis report and calls for housing policy to be added to the remit of the National Infrastructure Commission and for future infrastructure schemes to include details of their impact on housing supply.

It also calls for the establishment of a Chief Built Environment Adviser and better use of public resources. ‘With interest rates at historic lows, more can be done to use the balance sheets of public and private sector bodies to boost housing supply,’ the report suggests, adding that the cap on Housing Revenue Account receipts should be lifted to allow councils to borrow to build social housing.

Other possibilities include central and local governments setting up public sector investment vehicles and a national housing investment bank to issue bonds and ISAs, recycle right to buy receipts and attract long term institutional investment.

RIBA believes that local authorities should set up Local Housing Development Funds, with initial capital for investment provided by local authority pension funds. Once such schemes are up and running, they would be able attract secondary institutional investment and the Government should transfer responsibility and resources for housing and planning to local and regional authorities.

‘This transfer needs to be accompanied by greater autonomy over policy setting. The regeneration of housing estates should be based on an approach which makes the most of the strengths of existing communities and addresses the challenges exacerbated by the urban environment such as anti-social behaviour or high rates of obesity,’ the report says.

‘Local leaders should be empowered to shape their local housing market by taking control over requirements for affordable housing, including the tenure composition for new developments such as social rent, affordable rent, living rent, shared ownership, and Starter Homes, based on local housing need, rather than fixed national targets,’ it adds.

It also points out that self build and custom build add value to a locality, can be an affordable routes to home ownership, and are valuable as delivery mechanisms for new, high quality homes.

It acknowledges that the Self-Build and Custom Housebuilding Act and the Housing and Planning Act aim to identify land and provide planning policies to support custom build but says that unless local authorities have sufficient resources they will struggle to implement their duties effectively, adding that sufficient resources must be made available to identify land and for the management and promotion of the custom build register.

RIBA warns that a focus on the number of new homes must not lead to lower design and quality standards. ‘Local communities should be given greater powers to shape how development in their area meets local needs including for local amenities like schools and health centres, as well as housing. Clarity for architects, developers and communities on the quality and design standards expected will be particularly important to the success of permission in principle and the conversion of offices to housing,’ it explains.

And it calls for support for new types of housing development. ‘Our ageing population has huge implications for the houses that we need to build. A broader range of housing options is needed, both to ensure that people are living in the best possible homes, but also to unlock larger housing for families,’ the report says.

‘The Government should examine the options for freeing up under used homes by incentivising older residents to right-size and it should be made easier to build homes aimed specifically at older generations,’ the report adds.

Finally, RIBA says that the Government should strengthen national standards and building regulations to ensure that future homes are sustainable and resilient and at the same time, more needs to be done to address the poor condition of much of the UK’s existing housing stock.