29 August 2023

Could census data be better used to determine housing supply? – Matthew Evans and Helen Streeton write for CoStar

Commercial Real Estate Partner and Head of Forsters’ Build to Rent group, Helen Streeton, and Planning Counsel, Matthew Evans, have written for CoStar on how the data is there to get new homes built, and why it is not currently being mined.

The pair write how the local plan-making process to deliver new homes was further complicated by Michael Gove’s announcement earlier in the year that the government is scrapping housebuilding targets.

Even before this decision, the delay in implementing planning reforms had been causing severe challenges to the delivery of these new homes.

Evans and Streeton explain that “although local authorities still need to update (or in some circumstances, create) local plans, many are still adopting a wait-and-see-approach while they wait for further clarity on legislative reform within the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill and the government’s response to its recent consultation on the National Planning policy Framework.”

Resultantly, housing needs continue to go unmet and rental levels continue to rise. This is particularly pertinent for the rental market, with average prices nationwide rising 4.8% in the 12 months to April 2023, “the highest increase since the national data series began in 2016.”

Despite widespread focus on community opposition to new homes, and a strong anti-development rhetoric in mainstream media, Evans and Streeton say that the reality is very different.

There is a genuine appreciation for the need for new homes, but the underlying concern is around the demands an increased population would place on local infrastructure.

“Would top-down housing numbers solve the problem? Potentially, if they leaned on data that gives a true representation of housing need. Utilising census data could be a more effective way of identifying the tenure and size of homes needed, and in what locations.”

The pair add that even though the Build to Rent sector is projected to grow rapidly over the next decade or so, moving from 1.5% to 8% of the total rental market by 2032, there continues to be a lack of knowledge and expertise around its role in meeting housing need.

It is a similar case for the later living sector. There is an urgent need for sector growth but insufficient amounts of suitable housing. The pair suggest that creating a separate use class could be helpful in expediting planning applications, thus alleviating the strain on the sector.

Evans and Streeton conclude that: “The answer to meet housing need is not to scrap housing targets. It is to be smarter about how housing numbers are calculated and tap into the incredible wealth of data that already exists on our current and future population, in order to provide the right homes in the right places.”

This article was originally published by CoStar on 22 August 2023 and can be read here in full (behind their paywall).

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