Over the coming months, Backbench will be partnering with Torrin Wilkins, Director of Centre Think Tank for a series of comment pieces. In his column, Torrin will explore prominent policy issues – some of them related to the latest news and others related to his longer-term projects. We’d love for Backbench readers and commentators to respond to Torrin’s policy analysis and ideas, so if you would like to contribute a response, please email email@example.com.
Please note that all the views expressed in Torrin’s articles are those of Torrin himself and do not necessarily represent the standpoint of Backbench.
As a 21-year-old owning my own home seems like an unreachable goal which I couldn’t be further away from. I’m not alone. Eight million people have some kind of housing need and the issue itself has been a political minefield for years. To solve this, we need to build more than four million new homes in the next 15 years to meet the UK’s housing needs. However, this figure does include around 760,000 people who are either struggling to afford their home or live in older homes that aren’t suitable. This gives us a general starting point.
How we get there is a difficult issue; it’s difficult in part due to public opinion. The good news is that the public consistently supports more houses. In fact there is so much support that polling shows that people want more houses built even if it reduces house prices overall.
However, the problem comes when we start to look at where new houses can be built. There is consistent support for the idea that there is enough brownfield land to meet the countries housing needs and there is incredibly strong opposition to building on greenfield sites.
With these public opinions in mind, it’s clear to see how the two sides of this debate normally clash. One wants to build more houses and sees the need for more homes. The other wants to protect green areas and possibly doesn’t even like the idea of new houses in their area. The question then is how we ensure enough houses are built, as the public supports, whilst also getting around the greenbelt issue.
The first thing is to use what houses we already have more effectively. We could see an additional 170,000 to 600,000 additional homes by simply implementing a proportional property tax. This would abolish stamp duty, which is a tax on the sale of land or property, along with business rates and council tax. It would replace them with a simple and fair flat tax rate on all houses with an extra increased rate of property tax for second homes.
Just the issue of second homes by itself is huge. The ramifications of second home ownership can often hurt communities where people who want to be involved in their local area could live. Within the UK between 2018 and 2019 there were 495,000 second homes so there is a huge amount of potential for an extra tax on these.
The second area we could build on is brownfield sites. Brownfield sites could contain as many as 1.3 million houses, although it’s not clear how easy or feasible housebuilding would be for each individual site.
The third solution is reforming our planning laws, something the Conservatives are currently trying to do. The biggest issue is how this is achieved and a zoning system, if done properly and locally, can work well to make it simpler to build properties.
Finally, the issue of building on greenfield areas. To solve this, I think it’s best to look back at the garden city movement which saw the building of Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth Garden City. Building more houses on greenfield land whilst creating new garden cities would help to reduce the number of people who need houses whilst doing it in a way that would leave open spaces that could be used by those living there.
If these steps were implemented, then the government could begin to reduce the number of people who need a home. It would build in both disused areas whilst giving other areas a new purpose. The key to all of this is a willingness for new houses, something the public support, but more importantly a willingness to include solutions like garden cities.