Posted on 15th September 2012

A Boost to Housing, But at What Cost?

Martin Williamson, Head of Residential PropertyMeasures to address the shortage of housing in this country, and thereby to boost the flagging economy, seem laudable on the face of it. They certainly could be good news for many, including first-time buyers, with the extension of the FirstBuy scheme, and those looking to extend their properties. However, we must ask ourselves whether the plans are altogether positive for the future of our green and pleasant land.

The 70,000 new homes that now look set to be built will have to be situated somewhere, and, for better or for worse, green belt is the Governments preferred option. London and the South East are bursting at the seams, and available and affordable housing is becoming as scarce as hens teeth. There is little doubt that new homes need to be built, with the crucial knock-on effect that the construction industry will receive a much-needed shot in the arm; but what is the best way to go about it?

Two viable alternative plans, and ones which do require further consultation and necessary re-development, are to use brownfield land and to invest more money into bringing the huge number of empty homes back into habitation. There are 930,000 empty homes in the UK, of which 350,000 are long-term empty, according to 2011 Empty Homes statistics. While the Government has pledged millions to bring these properties back into use, empty homes and brownfield urgently need to be on the frontline of action, and not embryonic Plan B and Cs, as they seem to be at present.

These measures could be combined with sensitive suburban extension and infill, refurbishing existing buildings and thinking creatively about how we can ensure people are living in homes the size they want. If their houses are too big, can we build, or refurbish, appropriately sized homes that are local, attractive and desirable? And, more to the point, will people want to live in them at the end of the day?

The key obstacle to this development is that our collective conscious in this country revolves around the up-scaling model; the idea that we always have to move on to something bigger and better; this is, after all, the whole raison detre of the property ladder. That is also part of the reason why we are having the debate about where to build new homes in the first place. There simply isnt a lot of space left because our growing population has demanded more and bigger properties for years and years; reaching the heady heights in the 80s boom years.

The relaxation of planning regulations and the transfer of some applications to a planning and appeals fast-track is good news, as many applications have been mired in bureaucracy for far too long. The slashing of red tape for major commercial and residential applications is also largely to be welcomed.

What remains the question, and one which we, as legal experts, could have an active and constructive debate on, is should we be continuing to concrete over our green and pleasant land? There are viable alternatives to this, after all.Martin Williamson is Head of Residential Property at Latimer Hinks Solicitors in Darlington. Latimer Hinks has a team of around 40 people serving private and corporate clients.

Please note: This article is intended as guidance only. No responsibility for loss occasioned/costs arising as a result of any act/failure to act on the basis of this article can be accepted by Latimer Hinks. In addition, no responsibility for loss occasioned/costs arising as a result of any act/failure to act on the basis of this article can be accepted by the firm.