Looking abroad to help address the UK housing crisis

In the past year, Conservative MP and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss was quoted to have said, “[sic] plans to build behind my house in Norfolk, which some people locally are opposing. And I refuse to do that, because you put your money where your mouth is. We have to support new development. Even if it is on the field that our house personally overlooks.” A YIMBY through and through.

She has also forwarded the idea of looking to Tokyo’s attitude towards planning. Tokyo removed planning restriction in the 1990’s including for intensification, which then led to housing becoming more affordable. Liz Truss made the argument for deregulation and the braver regeneration of existing infrastructure within England.

As my colleague Gerard recently wrote in a blog post Shelter released its report, “Building for our future: A vision for social housing”. Bizarrely both have one thing in common - the need to build houses (market and social) quicker to meet the ever growing demand.

As the housing crisis rumbles on, and while Brexit causes a momentary stall in political attention and effects on the housing market furthered by a lack of supply and affordability, perhaps now is a golden opportunity to reflect on how we could improve on delivering clearly much-needed homes.

One idea may be to look abroad, but possibly closer to home than Tokyo, and look North towards Sweden. Sweden uses offsite manufacture leading to more sustainable and quickly produced homes which makes up approximately 45% of overall housing. This compares to only 10% of all building projects in the UK, generally relating to schools, hotels or similar.

In this way of building, housing parts are sent off the site to be constructed and then returned to the site, due in Sweden’s case to the harsh climate. Homes England is now starting to use offsite methods in sites in Warrington, Hemel Hempstead, Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Birmingham to kick start the uptake of modern housebuilding. In addition to Homes England, Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT), Birmingham’s largest housebuilder, has exciting plans to trial 50 modular offsite houses, with more plans to follow.

Given the housing crisis, and the government target to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s to tackle it, paired with Shelter’s calls for at least 3 million social homes in the next twenty years; it seems possible to achieve this, but only if we make some radical changes in the industry.

Watch this space we say.

Phoebe Gray - Account Executive