Written evidence submitted by Alan Wenban-Smith
Successive Governments have long had the aim that
all households should have access to decent housing. The assumption
has been that this aim can only be achieved by way of building
enough new houses"enough" being sufficient to
add to the housing stock a number equal to the projected increase
in the number of households.
However, only 10% of housing transactions involve
new housing, the vast majority of households (especially the poorest)
meeting their needs through the turnover of the existing stock.
Lower house price inflation and a better match between supply
and demand are both desirable aims, but there is no "quick
fix" available by increasing housing land supply through
the planning system.
To meet the need for decent, affordable housing requires
greater attention to the housing that we already have, focused
on tackling urban decay and uneven regional growth. With the abolition
of RSSs, this means paying particular attention finding other
means to integrate spatial and transport planning. There are implications
for more joined up and devolved patterns of governance.
1.1 I have worked for major urban authorities
(Newcastle, Tyne and Wear and Birmingham), with senior responsibilities
for planning, housing, transport and regional collaboration. My
consultancy work over the last 10 years has been across a similarly
broad range.1 The process by which governments have
sought to manage housebuilding rates (the "housing numbers
game") has been a continuing issue over the whole of this
2. FOCUS OF
2.1 Successive Governments' over-riding housing
objective has been that "
everyone should have the
opportunity to buy or rent a decent home at a price they can afford".2
The assumption has been that this can only be achieved by way
of building sufficient new houses to add to the housing stock
a number equal to the projected increase in the number of households.
(a) New build numbers have only marginal effect
on prices or meeting needs (NHPAU analysis showed that affordability
would only return to 2007 levels (regarded as unacceptable) even
with a 50% increase in new building.3 Figure 1 shows
how most of the net increase in projected households is in the
stock of old households (elderly and very old
living alone), and that the net increase approach does not address
the flow of new households;
(b) Increasing land supply is in any case likely
to have only a marginal effect on new build numbersthough
it does affect where new houses are built (suburban and
greenfield not urban and brownfield);
(c) It is very unlikely that the market for new
private housing will recover to pre crunch levels (let alone the
higher numbers promoted under previous policies) for a long timeif
at all. The finance required to maintain past levels of lending
to new market entrants is unlikely to be forthcoming for what
may well be seen for a long time to come as subprime lending;
(d) A focus on new housing (whether by RSSs or
alternative local incentives) is likely to distract attention
and divert investment from securing the continued attraction of
existing communities. Since this is where 90% of needs are met,
it risks undermining rather than supporting real housing needs.
2.2 Figure 1 uses the example of household projections
carried out for the West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy to
illustrate these points in concrete form:
(a) Two-thirds of the net increase in households
(250,000 out of 371,000) was accounted for by the net increase
in elderly households. However, the main dynamic factors
are quite different: there is a large inflow of entirely new households
(+912,000 over 20 years) and outflow of expiring households (-453,000),
while the numbers of households in-between are broadly stable
(though there will be changes in the identity and composition
of households even where numbers are stable).
(b) In the regiona, as nationally, around 10%
of existing homes change hands each year. This process (known
as "churn") will provides around five million housing
opportunities in the West Midlands over the next 20 years. In
contrast, new housing in line with the net increase in needs (370,000)
would offer less than a tenth of this number.
(c) An important implication is that the needs
of new households amount to around 20% of the overall annual
flow of housing opportunities across all tenures (912,000 out
of five million). To the extent that owner-occupation is unaffordable
to these households, access to other forms of tenure will be needed.
The existing stock of social housing is by far the most important
WHY NET CHANGES IN HOUSEHOLDS ARE A BAD GUIDE
TO PLANNING FOR HOUSING
2.3 In the 1980s the then Government sought to
raise private housebuilding rates by requiring the planning system
to provide more land, particularly in places where builders want
to build.4 Essentially the same conclusion was put
forward by the Barker Report and formed the basis of the last
Government's policy from 2005. On both occasions there were extensive
releases of greenfield sites, but the output of new housing did
not increase for long (Figure 2).
HOUSING COMPLETIONS BY SECTOR, ENGLAND: ACTUALS 1946-2010; NHPAU PROJECTIONS 2008-26
1946-2007 + NHPAU projections 2008-2026
3. THE NEED
Transport and urban change
3.1 We tend to think of transport as a fairly
self-contained system. If we are asked (for instance) to contemplate
reducing our use of the car, our reaction is to look at the alternatives
for that particular trip (Is there a bus? Is it too far to cycle
comfortably? etc). The result is that we are generally very unwilling
to do anything about it. But if we look at behaviour over the
somewhat longer term we see that we actually employ a much wider
range of responses to changing transport. Over the last 30 years
we have hardly changed the number of trips we each make, but the
length of those trips has increased by nearly 50%, and the amount
of travel by car has more than doubled (Figure 3).5
SOURCES OF INCREASED PERSONAL TRAVEL (SURFACE
MOTORISED TRAVEL 1972-73 TO 2006)
|Increase in population
|increase in trips/head||12%
|increase in trip lengths||48%
|Increase in car travel||109%
|Source: DfT (2008), "UK transport statistics"
3.2 The main mechanism driving these changes is different
from day-to-day transport decisions (which are typically about
time of day, route and mode of transport). The longer-term pattern
is dominated by our choices of location: where we live,
where we work, where we go for shopping and leisureand
for businesses, where to locate, where to site depots and branches,
what areas to serve, and where to source materials and services.
These locational choices are themselves influenced by what the
transport system offers, and are the key to the importance of
transport to urban regeneration.
3.3 In the case of housing, as has been discussed above, most
of this movement takes place within the existing stock of buildings90%
of the housing market is second-hand and only 10% is new. While
"urban sprawl" may help to confirm and solidify a more
dispersed pattern, this does not have to wait upon the realtively
slow process of new development (around 1% of stock a year).
3.4 This has some huge implications for housing. The dispersion
of households away from urban centres as new housing opportunities
were opened up, in new suburbs and existing towns and villages
in commuting range was not a cross-section. On average, the best-off
moved furthest, while the poorest stayed put. This process (reinforce
massively by post-WW2 housing clearance and redevelopment has
widened the social gaps between inner city, suburbs, commuter-land
and outer estates. Deprived areas have become more deprived and
rich areas more exclusive.
3.5 It is these large-scale shifts of people, and the associated
sorting and filtering processes, that leads to neighbourhoods
with concentrations deprived and vulnerable people. Once established,
such areas can be extraordinarily persistent, because the transport
system means that the most mobile and active escape. This makes
transport a key to the quality of the places we live in, connecting
in deep-seated ways to issues as diverse as social cohesion, house
prices and the economic vitality of cities. These issues are crucial
to the contribution of the existing housing stock to meeting people's
needs for decent housing.
Transport and spatial planning
3.6 The conventional approach is that transport provision
should respond to the pattern of demand placed upon it: "predict
and provide" has been the basis of road investment for the
last 50+ years. But the pattern of demand is the outcome of the
transport that is provided: transport leads rather than
follows patterns of location and activity.
3.7 RSSs and Local Transport Plans (LTPs) originated in the
West Midlands6 as local expressions of integrated
land-use and transport policies in the mid-1980s and early 1990s.
In a close parallel to present circumstances this action was prompted
by the abolition of the Metropolitan Counties and their Structure
3.8 The benefits of local collaboration were substantial,
and costs were limited, but depended on:
local political leadership and technical capacity;
limiting the scope to matters intrinsically needing wider consideration;
respect by central government for local conclusions.
4. ACHIEVING WIDER
4.1 The relationship between transport and spatial policy
has not been well-handled in RSSs, because of different regimes
at the centre: centralisation has undermined integration7,8.
4.2 In the case of transport central control has been reinforced
by a standardised system of appraisal (WebTAG), which has the
effect both of limiting transport decision-making to transport
impacts and of making national strategic decisions the sum of
scheme appraisals. There are parallels here with the excessive
role accorded to housing numbers in RSSs.
4.3 To this extent greater localisation offers potential for
improvement. However, the lesson to be learnt from the failure
to realise the potential of RSSs and LTPs is that devolution must
(a) While much decision-making is appropriately devolved to
local and neighbourhood levels, the geography of many key processes
is intrinsically on a broader level, aspects of transport being
an example. While voluntary cross-border collaboration can achieve
much, central government is inescapably accountable for setting
a framework within which subsidiarity can work;
(b) Government needs to decide priorities between broad geographical
areas and expenditure headings, leaving local authorities to decide
their priorities within them;
(c) Government should withdraw from more detailed guidance
and control. Its own policy requirements need to be expressed
as fewer and more strategic targets. Such targets should not in
general be numerical (though numbers do have a role in informing
(d) The direction of travel should be towards more local revenues
being raised locally, and less collected centrally and then disbursed.
The Lyons report had important suggestions on the need to enhance
local capability in parallel with devolution, and how to build
1 I have given evidence to several Select Committee
Inquiries on housing matters over the last 10 years, and acted
as a special adviser to the ODPM Select Committee Inquiry on Growth
Areas in the South East.
2 NHPAU (2008) "Meeting the Housing requirements
of an aspiring and growing nation: taking the medium and long-term
3 National Housing and Planning Advice Unit (2008)
"Meeting the housing requirements of an aspiring and growing
nation: taking the medium and long-term view. Advice on ranges
to be tested in RSSs".
4 Dept of the Environment (1980) Circular 9/80.
5 A Wenban-Smith (2009) Contribution to expert
workshop for Commission on Climate Change http://downloads.theccc.org.uk/CCC_land_use_transport_report.pdf.
6 In the form of Strategic Planning Guidance to
the West Midlands Metropolitan Districts (1987) as a context for
their Unitary Development Plans. SPG was issued on the basis of
advice from the seven Districts. This procedure was later taken
up by central Government for Regional PlaningGuidance and then
RSS (increasing in cost and complexity each time). Similarly LTPs
were the successor of the intregrated transport "Packages"
developed by the same local authorities following their own Integrated
Transport Studies (initiated by Birmingham in 1989).
7 DfT (2004) "Integration of Regional Transport
Strategies with spatial planning policy", report by MVA
8 See English Regions Network (2006) "Implementation
of RSSs" report by MVA.