Politicians on a building site

Comment: Parties have to put need for homes ahead of policy differences

Politicians need to forget their differences and work together with industry to tackle Britain's mounting housing crisis, says David Orr

In the UK, we're failing to build even half of the 250,000 homes we need each year to meet demand, and this has been the case for the last three decades. The housing crisis is growing year on year, with a total shortfall of almost half a million homes since 2011.

I could take up this whole column drawing on facts and figures to convey the scale of Britain's housing crisis; in short, the country does not have enough of the right homes in the right places at the right price.

As chief executive of the National Housing Federation, I often speak about the human cost of the housing crisis, something that the numbers don't show. For each of the two million households on council waiting lists, there is a story of the hardship and struggles that result from being insecurely and improperly housed. And that's before we consider people living in unsuitable or precarious accommodation but not counted among the officially homeless. A glance at the testimonies posted each day on the Homes for Britain campaign website (homesforbritain.org.uk) will show you people whose lives are upturned by frequent moves, people forced out of the communities they grew up in, and young families unable to form and grow.

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, has cited the national shortage of homes as a primary barrier to economic growth and the London Chamber of Commerce has warned of the negative impact of housing costs on businesses based in the capital. Not only are there financial costs associated with not acting to end the housing crisis, there are considerable economic gains associated with increasing housing supply. Research by the National Housing Federation has shown that building the 80,000 affordable homes the country needs annually would contribute £3.8bn to the national economy and support 71,000 full-time jobs.

There have been 500 government announcements covering 200 initiatives since 2010 so there is obviously an increasing recognition in Westminster of the issue. But initiatives are simply not enough to cut it. Politicians need to view the provision of homes as being similarly essential to the economic success of this country as HS2 or Crossrail.

The pursuit of this political commitment to end the housing crisis has galvanised organisations from every corner of the housing world to form the aforementioned Homes for Britain campaign. Homes for Britain is calling on all parties to commit to end the housing crisis within a generation, and publish a long-term plan for how they will do this by the end of their first year in office.

The housing crisis has a complex mix of causes and there is no silver bullet. But if we're to be economically successful and socially resilient as a nation, we need a proper housing strategy backed up by unshaking commitment from politicians across the board. We need cross-party agreement because tackling the housing crisis is too important to be subject to the changing winds of party politics and only a long-term plan will be effective in addressing the issue.

We need to free up land for the development of homes. We need regeneration in the areas with homes but no jobs. We need to meet the housing needs of the ageing population, alleviating pressures on the NHS. We need innovative housing solutions, such as YMCA's Y-Cube project. We need more genuinely affordable sub-market homes as well as more for market rent and sale. We need to encourage self-build and develop new garden cities.

We need all of these and more to solve the housing crisis. But the strands must be unified under a long-term strategic plan with clear objectives. House builders, housing associations, architects, engineers, planners - the entire housing industry - are all poised to maximise their impact and tackle the housing crisis. The question is, are our politicians ready and willing to face this challenge head on? Until the answer is a resounding 'yes', the crisis will continue.

David Orr is chief executive of the National Housing Federation (housing.org.uk).

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