Report: New Civic Housebuilding

By: Pete Jefferys and Toby Lloyd
Published: March 2017

New Civic Housebuilding Policy Report

In England we are not building enough homes – and haven’t for a generation. It’s at the heart of every housing problem we see: from homelessness to declining home ownership. For politicians it can often feel as though they are pulling on every lever available to them but housebuilding still fails to rise back to historic levels, and communities react negatively to proposals for new building.

This report argues that this problem exists because we have become reliant on one model of housebuilding: speculative housebuilding. Unfortunately, this way of building homes cannot deliver the number of homes our country needs on its own. It also fails to deliver the types of homes that most people can afford, or want to see built in their area. New housing supply remains unpopular in England, more so than in any other G8 country, despite housing also being the public’s top infrastructure priority.

Tinkering with speculative housebuilding, which has been the approach of successive governments for decades, will not deliver the homes we need. If we continue as we are, rather than trying something new, then things will continue to get worse – homeownership will decline, homelessness will rise and eventually there will be another cyclical crash. Deeper reform is required to transform housebuilding so that it consistently meets what England needs.

Ultimately, sticking with the status quo would just see housing choices get worse and worse. The main alternative options we face – such as planning deregulation or public subsidies – are unlikely to work, politically unfeasible or both.

But we must not despair. We can build high quality, popular and locally affordable homes with a ‘Civic’ approach. We’ve done it before. From the ‘model’ villages for factory workers at Bourneville and New Lanark; to the red bricks of the Peabody and Guinness estates; to Victorian and Georgian terraces in most major cities; to the ‘Garden’ cities of Letchworth and Welwyn – we have shown that we can lead the world in the quality and affordability of the places that we build.

This report argues that it’s time to get back into the habit of Civic Housebuilding at a scale that our housing shortage now demands. Only that way can we ensure that everyone in England has a decent, stable and affordable place to call home.