In recent years, the issue of how to create enough affordable housing to meet the UK’s current and future needs has rarely been out of the press. Structural warranty specialist Advantage Insurance (AHCI) takes a closer look at the issue
For the Advantage team, the race to create sufficient affordable housing and the challenge it has created for planners, councils, architects, developers and social housing experts alike is certainly on our radar. From writing a series of blogs about the issue on our website, www.ahci.co.uk, to working closely with the social housing providers for whom we provide structural warranties, to considering how developers must adapt to meet the needs of ‘Generation Rent’ and assisting developers in meeting tight deadlines in the parts of the country where housebuilding’s seen the sharpest rise, we’ve seen first-hand how the government’s ambitious affordable housing targets and local council housebuilding initiatives have and will continue to affect our sector.
In recent months, we’ve seen Theresa May (now former Prime Minister) put the emphasis firmly on quality as well as quantity for affordable housing, stating in her speech to the Chartered Institute of Housing conference: “I cannot defend a system in which owners and tenants are forced to accept tiny homes with inadequate storage, where developers feel the need to fill show homes with deceptively small furniture and where the lack of universal standards encourages a race to the bottom.”
So clearly the government wants more housing stock that is affordable, high quality and sufficiently spacious that homeowners don’t feel cramped. However, this will be a big ask at a time when ministers are set to miss a crucial target to build homes on public sector land by 95,000 by the end of the decade, according to a damning report by the National Audit Office (NAO).
The spending watchdog suggested that plans to release government-owned land for 160,000 homes by 2020 are unlikely to be achieved. Auditors at the NAO claimed that by December 2018, the government had only released land with a capacity for 38,166 homes. This is expected to increase to around 65,000 by the end of next year – 60% below the official target outlined by ministers.
“The government currently does not expect to reach the 160,000 target until after 2025,” the report added.
Housing consultancy Savills also warns that the government will miss its target to build 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s unless it increases grant funding for affordable housing and stops depending on private sales.
Given the scepticism regarding the government’s much-touted target of building 300,000 affordable homes a year, homeownership remains out of reach for many young people in the UK. As James Topping, sales manager, wrote on behalf of Advantage in a recent issue of PBC Today: “We’re starting to feel the tangible effects of ‘Generation Rent’ – an entire age group of young people who simply cannot escape serial renting.
“Statistics from 2016-17 showed that the private rental sector accounted for 20% of households in England – in other words, 4.7m properties. Growth began to accelerate around 2006-07 and is showing no sign of abating. In fact, it is predicted that the sector will grow a further 24% by 2021, meaning that one in four people will be renters rather than owners.”
The growth of the build-to-rent market is helping to improve amenities for tenants and it’s an area of the housing market which Advantage will continue to watch with interest as it matures along with its end users.
For those seeking to build more affordable housing, whether for rent or sale, one of the big challenges remains the shortage of modestly priced sites available to build on, making constructing a high volume of truly affordable homes near to people’s workplaces and key amenities difficult. And this is where making better use of our brownfield sites may play an important role.
“Building on brownfield presents a fantastic opportunity to simultaneously remove local eyesores and breathe new life into areas crying out for regeneration,” said Rebecca Pullinger, the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s (CPRE’s) planning campaigner told the Guardian earlier this year:
More than a million new homes could be built on land currently sitting unused across England, according to new analysis.
“Brownfield land”, which has previously been built on but is now derelict, could be transformed into vast swathes of housing within the next few years.
The CPRE said such measures would regenerate rundown areas without destroying precious stretches of countryside to meet the UK’s housing needs.
Working on unusual or previously overlooked plots of land (including brownfield sites) is clearly one viable way of building more of the new housing we need. Another is to self-build. As well as working with leading developers and housing associations, the Advantage team also works with individual self-builders, providing the most suitable cover and peace of mind while individuals build their dream homes. Self- and custom-build homes can provide a route into homeownership (or in some cases, a route to upsize).
We’re also seeing a rise (as it were) in tall buildings in London, making maximum use of tight plots of land, plus innovative architectural plans to make the most effective use of the space available and local councils throughout the country are clearly working hard to increase their share of affordable housing.
However, while much of the working week at the Advantage offices is spent working alongside the housebuilders who are building the homes of the future, we’re mindful that more must be done to help those who’ve been most acutely affected by the shortage of affordable housing – the 320,000 people who are currently homeless in the UK (according to 2018 figures from Shelter).
Last year, we made a financial donation and also collected essential items for the Whitechapel Centre (the leading homelessness charity for the Liverpool region) and we have continued to support this important charity in 2019.
We’re keen to play our small part in helping our clients and the members of our community to put a roof over their heads, whether that entails providing structural warranties for high-value developments, helping an individual to make their dream home a reality, working alongside the housing associations that contribute so much in the arena of affordable housing or simply working alongside other businesses to help fund vital support for the homeless.
We hope that by the time we revisit this topic for PBC Today, we’ll have seen further progress by local and central government, planners, developers, housing associations, charities, architects, individuals and local communities, all working to help make high quality, secure housing affordable to more people.
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