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Editor’s note: Phantom homes haunt the market

Many people will have found it frustrating to hear the news last week that nearly one in three UK homes previously granted planning permission had not been built during a five-year period in the recent past.

Housing and homelessness charity Shelter reported that, despite permission having been gained to build, housebuilders had left more than 320,000 planned homes unbuilt between the years 2010 and 2015.

It is well documented that the plight of aspiring first-time buyers with their struggles to get on the housing ladder is exasperated by a lack of supply. So to read that there are potential properties across the UK that have gone through the arduous process of achieving planning permission but subsequently been abandoned or put on hold must be hugely irritating.

The research found that London had an even higher number of properties with residential permission that had not been completed; one in two potential homes in the capital was said to be an unbuilt ‘phantom home’.

The charity has accused housebuilders of sitting on land and drip-feeding developments to “keep prices high”. Whether or not this is the case, it’s pretty incredible that this practice is happening given the well-known supply issues the country is faced with. And, although the lack of affordable properties to buy is a serious dilemma, the true crisis is that there are those who can’t even afford to rent due to rising costs.

It’s unfathomable in this day and age that so many people don’t have a stable and permanent home to live in. The issue is a reality for so many but it receives much less press coverage than it deserves. And yet the line between those struggling to meet rent and mortgage payments and those classed as homeless is a very fine one. In fact, the majority of those without a secure home arrived at that position due to financial and
affordability issues, research from Shelter shows.

As the charity points out, you don’t have to live on the street to be deemed homeless; you may be legally classed as homeless if you are sleeping on a friend’s sofa, staying in a hostel, suffering from overcrowding or enduring other poor living conditions. And it’s fairly easy to see how any of us could go from having trouble with rent or mortgage repayments to relying on the hospitality of a friend or relative, which should never be a permanent arrangement.

An increase in housing supply won’t solve all the problems around homelessness but it would make an impact. We must keep banging that drum.

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James Chidgey

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