Scheme would provide incentive to developers

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This country’s housing crisis continues to get worse.

Last year in England around 100,000 houses were built when more than 200,000 were needed just to keep up with demand.

This has been caused by a number of factors; not just an overall increase in the population but also longer life expectancy and more people living alone.

This shortfall is adding to house price inflation and leading to increased rents for those who cannot afford to buy.

It also means less social housing for those on low incomes and it’s blighting lives and lessening opportunity, as well as harming the economic recovery.

There have been plenty of ideas and solutions that have been proposed over the years to tackle the problem, including this government’s drive to simplify planning laws to get houses built.

But one that addresses the shortage of social housing, in particular, comes to my mind.

Rules dictate that any new development has to provide enough free land to ensure that 40 per cent of any development is affordable housing.

But due to the financial crisis, fewer developments are being built and so less social housing is getting built too because the two go hand in hand.

A solution is to treat the 40 per cent affordable component as the public asset it truly is and build on it regardless of whether the rest of the development is being developed.

Housing associations and local authorities could be allowed to bid to bring forward the social elements of sites which have been granted outline planning permission, irrespective of whether the owners are developing the wider site.

Now this does sound like a neat plan, but there are, of course, potential complications such as who builds the infrastructure on the site and where to build the social housing without threatening the economic viability of the wider development.

But I don’t think these problems are insurmountable and a scheme such as this would provide a considerable incentive to developers to get on and build without interference – something that needs to urgently happen.

The net result would, hopefully, be a stimulus to the construction sector and acceleration of the provision of social housing.

It might all come to nothing, but I think the housing crisis is such a serious issue, radical action must be considered.