Nearly two years after the government set out an ambitious vision to ramp up housebuilding to 300,000 homes a year, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government does not a have a detailed implementation plan and is “way off track" on the pledge, MPs have warned.
The department was even rebranded by Theresa May in an effort to underscore the government’s focus on dealing with the nation’s housing crisis and catching up with decades of under-delivery by hitting the new target by the mid-2020s.
But a new report by the Public Accounts Committee says “inherent problems” at the heart of the planning system coupled with difficulties in getting private developers to fund vital infrastructure for large-scale new housing developments are jeopardising the chances of success.
According to the most recent annual statistics published by MHCLG, 165,090 new-build homes were completed in the year to December 2018, although ministers often prefer to use a different statistic – net additional dwellings – which is a higher number. The net additional dwellings figure – which includes houseboats and conversions – was 222,190 for 2017-18, the most recent year for which figures are available.
The PAC report covers many of the topics raised by a National Audit Office investigation published in February and points to the gap between the historic average of 177,000 new homes a year delivered between 2005-06 and 2017-18 and the 300,000 target.
It also said ministers have yet to give a “clear rationale” for the 300,000 figure. “The ministry themselves say only 265,000 new homes a year are needed,” the committee said.
The PAC said that while local planning authorities had key roles in determining local housing need and allocating sites, MHCLG was reluctant to use its powers to intervene when they were dragging their heels.
It added that the system for getting contributions from developers towards the cost of infrastructure was not working effectively, and too often favoured developers at the expense of local communities. The committee said there was evidence authorities lacked the skills to effectively negotiate appropriate contributions from developers while there was uncertainty over sources for public funding for infrastructure too.
PAC chair Meg Hillier said progress against the new target was “way off track” and currently showed “scant chance” of being achieved.
“Government needs to get a grip and set out a clear plan if it is not to jeopardise these ambitions,” she said.
“Poor performance by the Planning Inspectorate in reviewing appeals has also added to delays. There is also a collective failure to ensure developers contribute fairly for infrastructure."
The MPs called on MHCLG to set out the full set of actions it is taking to achieve the 300,000 new homes target, with year-on-year projections for the number of new homes it expects to be built. They also asked for a breakdown of the anticipated mix of affordable housing types that the overall figures would include. Both responses were flagged with an October deadline.
Elsewhere, MPs also raised concerns about the poor build-quality quality of new homes – and of new homes being delivered through the conversion of former offices, often via planning freedoms introduced under the coalition government.
“The department is focusing on the quality and safety of high-rise residential buildings after the Grenfell fire,” MPs said. “It does not have a specific programme to address concerns about the quality of new builds.”
Housing minister Kit Malthouse said the 300,000 new-homes-a-year target was a core element of the government’s mission “to restore the dream of home ownership for a new generation”.
“We’re committed to building more, better and faster, including £44bn of funding and guarantees to support more homes, reforming the planning system to free up more land, and removing the cap on how much councils can borrow to build,” he said.
“We’re making real progress, last year delivering more new homes than in all but one of the last 31 years.”
Malthouse added that the government had committed to creating a New Homes Ombudsman to protect the rights of buyers and hold developers to account. “We are exploring the option to introduce it in shadow form before its formal launch,” he said.