The Lyons Review: Britain’s housing crisis – and how we solve it

Labour has published its plans on how it will deliver 200,000 homes a year in the UK.

Labour has published its plans on how it will deliver 200,000 homes a year in the UK

Published this morning, the 180 page report from the Lyons Review of housing opens with recognition of the extent of the housing crisis a Labour government will face next May. Two or more decades of under-supply, house prices eight times average incomes, worsening rental affordability, increased overcrowding and growing homelessness are just a few of aspects of this burgeoning crisis.

But fashioning solutions to such a deep crisis is not so easy – and so it proves with the Lyons Review report.

While the report recognises that housing must become a priority for the nation again as it was in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the proposals are a starting point for tackling the crisis rather than a means of solving it.

The central proposal is that 200,000 homes will be produced yearly by 2020. The problem here is that this target is at the bottom end of the range that housing experts say is required to meet the nation’s housing needs. The more accepted 250,000 annual target leaves the Lyons proposals quite a shortfall over a Parliament. Also, every year that this target is unmet up until 2020, stores up additional demand into the future.

Despite this central issue, the report sets out a plan to start tackling the underlying causes of the housing crisis, including making housing investment a priority for a future Labour government and dismantling barriers to freeing-up land for house-building.

Key proposals include:

  • New Homes Corporations with powers to facilitate building on land with local authorities empowered to enforce land release from developers, including strengthened compulsory purchase powers.
  • The creation of at least five new towns including two in south-east England to alleviate demand in the most sough-after region with the highest house prices.
  • A more competitive construction industry with expansion of the number of smaller building companies.
  • While there will be no lifting of local authorities’ borrowing caps – a Balls red line – councils will be able to share caps so that spare capacity in one area can support house building elsewhere.
  • Local authorities will also be equipped with fresh powers to curtail the Right-to-Buy social homes for buy-to-let purposes and to tackle empty homes, of which there are almost 1 million in the UK.
  • Enabling local people to have first refusal on homes built in their area for up to two months, which some are interpreting as a political answer to the rise of UKIP by establishing a residential qualification for access to new housing, so potentially cutting out new migrants.

Building greater capacity in the construction industry is seen as a way of creating 230,000 new jobs while adding 1.2 per cent to GDP. Lyons also proposes ways to ensure that councils play a bigger role as house builders after forty years of decline and to unlock the capacity and ambition of housing associations to play a bigger role in investment and delivery of new homes.

The report very much centres upon new supply with little on the way homes are managed in future. In social housing, for instance, there are no proposals to extend mutual approaches providing tenants with opportunities to manage their homes and communities and so tackle deep-seated inequalities in wealth between renters and home owners.

Even so, the Lyons Review report represents the most comprehensive assessment of the nation’s housing crisis since the Barker Review and should be welcomed as a good starting point for a new Labour government.

Kevin Gulliver is director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute and chair of the Centre for Community Research but writes in a personal capacity

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