Build High For Happiness: Relaxing The Planning Laws

“Build high for happiness” was a slogan of Kroagnon, the Great Architect in Doctor Who’s Paradise Towers. It also seems to be a slogan of the Conservative Party as they unveil plans to relax planning laws to ensure more housing is built in Britain, and, like the homicidal architect, it seems they don’t actually want anyone to live in all the hundreds of thousands of houses they want built, if past form is anything to go buy.

As has been testified time and again, the housing problem in the UK has little to do with planning laws. Thousands of homes have been greenlighted but have yet to be built as companies sit on the land they own while it appreciates in value. And, when a development is actually built, an inevitable process occurs by which the amount of ‘affordable housing’ is reduced (to nothing, if they can get away with it) and what ‘affordable housing’ there is is only affordable if you are rich or on housing benefit, pricing the workforce out. Then, the majority of homes are purchased by wealthy foreigners as an investment (or means of laundering money) and allowed to stand empty, adding to this island’s crowding without doing much if anything to resolve its desperate need for affordable housing.

Allowing people to add a floor to their home without needing planning permission, if they meet specific criteria, offers some slight solace to those who find themselves in need of more room and unable to move, but does nothing to help the thousands of families being illegally housed in bread-and-breakfast, nor does it assist all those families in modern houses, being built increasingly smaller in a quest for profit, and tiny two-up, two-down terraces that don’t meet the criteria.

At the same time, the government wants to allow tenants to buy housing association properties and to force better off tenants in social housing to pay market rates, making it inevitable they will opt to buy them with a cheaper mortgage than pay a high rent, further depleting social housing stocks. This is especially pernicious when the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ reduction in housing benefits for under-occupied homes leaves those only needing a single bedroom in arrears when no single-bedroom properties are available for them to move to.

There is a constant mantra that Britain ‘needs more homes’, yet while true in the literal sense, it isn’t true in the sense of needing to build more. Empty and derelict homes should be brought back into use, nobody should be allowed to own a second or holiday home, denying a home to others, and social housing stocks should be replenished and protected to prevent their loss to those who need them. Most importantly, the British need to be cured of their obsession with owning a home, an obsession that denies homes to those who need them and pushes up property prices beyond the means of many.

Only then, when the existing housing stock has been made use of should new homes be built, and only on brown-field sites.


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