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Seize the chance for radical housing reform

Britain – and London in particular – needs a sweeping overhaul of the planning system.

We are building a fraction of the homes we need to keep up with rising demand, and with a third of young people now faced with spending their entire lives renting, the crisis cannot afford to be brushed under the carpet any longer.

This is a cross-party issue.

On Wednesday, Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh set out a proposal to build one million homes in and around London by challenging the designation of some “green belt” land. As McDonagh points out, much of this land isn’t green at all – rather than rolling fields and verdant parks, it is disused brownfield sites fenced in barbed wire. Allowing developers to build much-needed homes within commuting distance from the capital would provide far more value for local residents than leaving sites abandoned and useless, while boosting housing supply for millions.

MPs, think tanks, academics, charities, and campaigners all know this. But for decades, a plague of nimbyism has stood in the way of a pragmatic, reality-centred strategy.

This could be about to change, with two new appointments this week to the government’s housing team.

James Brokenshire, who took over as housing secretary on Monday, is a bit of an unknown quantity when it comes to this issue. If he wants to make the most of his new role, he should continue the work of his predecessor, Sajid Javid. Under Javid, “nimby” councils that failed to build enough homes were to have their planning permission powers withdrawn.

Other ideas included new commuter towns, and relaxing rules about extending residences. We can only hope that Brokenshire continues in this vein, ideally taking an even bolder approach.

More encouragingly, Toby Lloyd has been appointed Number 10’s housing adviser. The former head of policy at the charity Shelter has been a vocal advocate of reviewing the green belt and giving local authorities the power to build homes where they are most needed.

These ideas and others (such as mechanisms to reduce the cost of land and reviewing who benefits from the added value when land is granted planning permission) are sure to ruffle feathers, but a critical situation requires a truly radical overhaul.

Theresa May promised to make fixing the housing crisis a cornerstone of her premiership. So far, it hasn’t quite gone to plan.

Let us hope that Brokenshire and Lloyd can inject some much-needed dynamism into tackling this systemic problem.

Source: City A.M.