Are we building too many homes?

A slow drive through a British town or city usually reveals the construction of a whole new estate, or several in many cases. It’s the result of a crisis Britain has been going through for what feels like decades. In theory, 300,000 new homes per year sounds like a logical solution but in practice, is it really this simple?

Houses for…?

One of the bugbears for many young people is trying to get onto the property market. The majority of houses being built are bought and sold privately, with little care or attention to social housing. Approximately 184,000 homes were built in 2016-2017. Of these, only 5,380 were for ‘social rent’ and less than 25,000 were considered ‘affordable rent’. Commentators have questioned what ‘affordable’ means and suggest the loose term is some way off what is factually affordable.

So, who are the vast majority of new homes being built for? A sticking point for many commentators is that, since most new-builds are bought and sold privately, it is helping to sky-rocket house prices, thus expelling would-be first-time buyers to get on the ladder.

Not for the future

Another argument against such rapid house-building is not so much cost but more to do with cultural heritage and British architecture. Since the cost of land has hurtled, independent developers are often frozen out of the game, leaving larger property developing companies to come in with a set template of an estate and stick to it closely. It’s why, suggests Oliver Wainwright of The Guardian, many of Britain’s estates look identical. He asks, ‘do any of them reflect the best design, the changing way we live, or how environmental thinking ought to be transforming architecture?’

What else should we consider?

With the Bank of England persistently tightening Help to Buy rules, first-time buyers have arguably never found it so difficult to get on the ladder. Whilst there are more and more schemes available for young buyers, few are for the majority benefit of the buyer and so come with added risk. Earlier this year, studies found an estimated one in three millennials will never own their own home. So, are these grand plans to build so many houses in such little time really for the benefit of those who need homes, or do they favour portfolio landlords too much?

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