Barratt CEO: 'Housing policy has a long way to go'

Mark Clare reckons better housing - not just numbers of homes - is key to solving the UK's accommodation crisis.

by Mark Clare, CEO of Barratt Developments
Last Updated: 07 Aug 2013

In business, as in life, the first step to solving a problem is accepting that there is one.

So it's encouraging to see policy makers of all hues accept the need to build more homes for a growing population and tackle the mounting housing crisis.

The crisis touches every sector of the housing market – from owner occupiers to private and social rent. And it was good to see some progress in the CSR on funding for social housing and the sale of public land

Slowly but surely the terms of the housing debate are starting to change. Increasingly housing is seen as a fundamental piece of this country's infrastructure.

Six months ago I would have said that the first step was sorting out a mortgage system that was characterised by a lack of lending. Since then progress has been made with the Help to Buy scheme boosting sales. As a result we've enjoyed the strongest spring selling season for five years.

Some have criticised the scheme as a creating another housing bubble; stoking up demand without a supply response. But I don't think that adds up.

Firstly because new build is only a small part of the total market but secondly because we're already seeing a supply response. We have upped production and this year we will complete 20% more homes than we did two years ago. Housing starts are on the rise.

However, Help to Buy alone will not be the long term solution to our creaking housing infrastructure. But nor was it designed to be.

There is more to do to create the right policy environment. First of all more land for housing must be made available. The public sector in all its forms owns more than a third of developable land and we have to find a better way of getting that to the market. The CSR is further evidence of the intent to tackle that.

There remains more to do on planning. Despite the positive planning reforms, the processes are still too slow. It can easily take over a year to get planning permission for a relatively straight forward housing development. We can and must be able to do that faster.

But none of this is as daunting as creating a more positive culture of support for housebuilding in local communities.

Housebuilders have not yet won over a sceptical public who accept that there is a housing crisis but will often refuse permission for new homes.

Although we can point to the immediate economic benefit of building new homes the debate has to be as much about better homes as it is about more homes.

The most powerful contribution we can make to this debate is creating great places to live that speak for themselves.

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