The UK market has been experiencing a housing shortage for some time. This has led to an unchanging high demand, especially for affordable and social housing. Despite this, the largest UK housebuilders report that this demand has led to a rise in sales. There are hundreds of housing projects and other residential property developments in progress across Greater London, but despite careful planning by the Lord Mayor’s office, the vast majority of them will still be priced way beyond the reach of the average buyer.
In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster, a year-long cross-party housing commission took place and its report, released at the beginning of 2019, makes for sobering reading. Together with the impact of the uncertainty around Brexit, the immediate outlook for housing construction in the UK doesn’t seem very promising.
The movement away from new-builds for sale is gaining traction. This is born out by the fact that there are now 139,508 build-to-rent homes in the UK, of which 29,416 have been delivered, 43,374 are under construction, and 66,718 are still in planning. Additionally, regeneration projects are happening, although very few include meaningful numbers of affordable homes.
Nevertheless, there are projects, recently completed and ongoing, which are attempting to address the shortage. They may not all be ambitious in scope, but they are clear attempts to address the lack of available properties.
Hundreds of apartments have been agreed for the fringes of Manchester city centre. However, none of them could be categorised as ‘affordable’. This has caused some criticism of the Manchester Council’s housing policy. Money might be found for affordable housing in other parts of the city, but only ‘might’. Other examples of smaller-scale housing initiatives being considered by the city council include a site in the Strangeways district (near the prison), where planning is in place for 500-plus new homes and investment in local amenities.
In the Holbeck district of Leeds, the Meynell development will construct 28 homes in less than nine months, with residents moving in by the beginning of 2020. What is notable here is the short lead time in construction. A development of this size would usually take closer to 24 months.
Helen Francis, business development director for United Living commented, ‘We’re looking at almost halving the time it would take to construct these homes through traditional methods’. This is on a small scale but could be a more agile project style to follow for the construction industry.
Oxford has an acute housing problem. This is partly caused by what has been called a commuter “rat-run”. Many residents cannot afford to live close to where they work. The ethos behind building new homes within walking distance of the city centre (or transport links to London) is to lessen local congestion and protect the surrounding countryside.
Two projects aim to use greenbelt land around the ring road to build housing and other facilities; in one case, up to 3,250 properties and in the other, 480 homes. Both face challenges from local community groups like The Oxford Civic Society.
Therein lies the dilemma for large-scale housing projects in the UK. Build bigger or smaller? The general trend is moving away from large-scale projects like the ones in Oxford, towards more modest, smaller-scale regenerations, especially in the more far-flung regions of the British Isles (Cornwall’s county-wide group of local projects is a good example).
What is sure is that, once the dust has cleared over Brexit, the challenges for housing will need to be addressed with ever greater urgency.