Over 168,000 new homes were completed in the year to March 2016, according to data released by the government, over 15,500 more than last year and the highest level since 2008/09.
Such news will be welcomed in the lead up to the much anticipated Government’s Housing White Paper. The review will hope to determine the future direction for scale, location and tenure of housing - but what will it do to the type and size of the bricks and mortar we call home?
While we would expect to see differences in the provision of flats and houses across the country due to the dynamics of the local population, the size and setting of localities – cities versus villages, suburbs versus regeneration zones - and the opportunities available for development, it is perhaps surprising, that the balance of flats and houses swings so distinctly and dramatically over time at a national level.
Prior to the millennium a significant proportion of new homes were in relatively low density developments of less than 25 homes per hectare – typically estates of detached three and four bed homes with gardens, and separate or integral garages. The introduction of PPG 3 in 2000 represented a step-change in government policy. It shifted the emphasis to higher density housing (30-50 units per hectare), on Brownfield and urban sites and included affordable home provision. As a result, by 2008/09, 49% of all new homes bought to the market were apartments, and half of those had 2 bedrooms or less.
However, over the past eight years, thanks again to government intervention, the balance of property types in new development has changed yet again. In 2010 the government abolished its housing density target and placed the decision on how, and where new and affordable homes should be built back to Local Authorities. Just 26% of new build properties delivered in 2015/16 were apartments while 63% had 3 or more bedrooms, the highest level for over a decade. While builders have sought to maximise development return, and three-storey townhouses have become common place on many new developments.
Where will government policy take us next?
So far in 2017 there have been two major announcements that suggest housing policy will focus on two core components – providing starter homes for first time buyers and a move to create more sustainable settlements.
Thirty Councils have been chosen to benefit from the £1.2bn Starter Homes Land Fund, set to deliver thousands of new homes which will be sold exclusively to first time buyers. Those aged between 23 and 40 looking to take their first step onto the property ladder will be able to buy new build properties at a 20% discount on market value.
The government has also given the go-ahead to 14 of 51 bids to create new Garden Villages of between 1,500 and 10,000 new homes (providing 50,000 new homes in total) and three garden cities providing an additional 150,000 new homes. Each settlement is set to provide all the necessary facilities and amenities its population requires, supported by a £6 million government fund. Such a concept harks back nearly 120 years to the original garden city movement initiated by Sir Ebenezer Howard, one of planned self-contained communities.
As to whether such homes will be houses or flats remains to be seen, but what is certain is that at a national level planning for new homes over the years has had a considerable impact on the type of properties bought to the market. The Housing White Paper will undoubtedly set the tone for the next decade of house building.