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It would take 50 years to build the homes the UK needs under the government's 300,000 annual target

So far, 220,000 homes a year is the closest the government has come to hitting its target. That won't solve the UK’s 4.3 million-home void, think tank Centre for Cities finds

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A failure to build enough homes for decades has seen the UK lag behind other countries in Europe and created a housing crisis that has left people unable to afford a home. Image: Mikael Blomkvist / Pexels

If the government hit its target of building 300,000 homes a year, it would still take 50 years to fill the UK’s 4.3 million housing backlog, a think tank has found.

Instead it would take 442,000 homes a year to be built for the next 25 years, or 654,000 built for each of the next 10 years, to end the housing crisis, according to new research from Centre for Cities.

The Conservatives set the 300,000 annual target – which was labelled “Stalinist” by former prime minister Liz Truss last year – back in its 2019 manifesto.

So far, the government has failed to hit that mark and will never come close to tackling the long-running issue at the current rate of building which has delivered around 220,000 homes per year.

Centre for Cities chief executive Andrew Carter said planning changes decades ago set the UK on a course that has seen record rents and soaring house prices locking people out of homes.

“This research shows that UK planning policy has held back the economy for nearly three quarters of a century, stifling growth and exacerbating a housing crisis that has blighted the country for decades,” said Carter.

“Big problems require big solutions and if the government is to clear its backlog of unbuilt homes, it must first deliver planning reform. Failure to do this will only continue to limit England’s housebuilding potential and prevent millions from getting on the property ladder.”

Successive governments have failed to build enough homes and Centre for Cities said the current case-by-case planning process based on the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act has created an inefficient and outdated planning system hampering housebuilding.

That has seen UK housebuilding drop below European averages over the last 70 years. The number of dwellings per person in Britain was 5 per cent above the European average in 1955, figures from 2015 show it has since plummeted to at least 8 per cent below the average.

Centre for Cities calculated that at least 4.3 million homes could have been built since the 1950s if planning laws had been different.

The think tank said the discretion in the planning system has restricted development and traced it back to the 1947 act before the introduction of Right to Buy in 1980 led to a decline in council housebuilding.

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Housebuilding rates in England and Wales have dropped by more than a third after the introduction of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, from 2 per cent growth per year between 1856 and 1939 to 1.2 per cent between 1947 and 2019.

Centre for Cities called for the government to shift towards a rules-based, flexible zoning process – much like the one used in European countries. 

These reforms would ensure there was more land available for new homes and boost the availability of higher-quality and affordable housing, researchers concluded. 

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John Myers, co-founder at YIMBY Alliance, backed the report’s findings.

“This report helps to demonstrate the urgency of getting to a better planning system to deliver homes for homeless people and everyone in inadequate housing,” said Myers.

“The key is to get improvements that are sustainable because they also meet the needs of communities. That means empowering them to make housing more affordable and make their places better too.”

The government set out its intention to reform the planning system a year ago in the Levelling Up white paper.

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The reforms aim to simplify the system with shorter local plans for England to make it easier for local authorities to implement them. The white paper also promised to use the planning system to make “natural beauty” accessible.

Government proposals also included a plan for ‘street votes’ which would allow local residents to propose a new development on their street and then hold a referendum to decide if the development should receive planning permission.

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “We know we need to deliver more homes which is why we’re introducing the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which will speed up the planning system and put power in the hands of communities.

“Our target of building 300,000 homes remains and we are investing £11.5 billion to build more of the genuinely affordable homes this country needs.”

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