Clear direction for housing needed, says RICS

The government’s extended deliberations about the way to improve availability, choice and diversity in UK housing is creating a climate of uncertainty for investors, which risks holding back development.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has issued its latest comments on the Barker Review on Housing to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Louis Armstrong, chief executive of RICS, says: “A clear direction for housing is needed, one which gives certainty for investors, and flexibility and choice for occupiers and owners. Investors need clarity about planning, land assembly, regional policy and infrastructure.

“We can’t look at housing in isolation. RICS wants to see a policy of investing in city regions outside of London to cool demand in the hotspots of the South-East and stimulate economic growth across the rest of the country.

“Our society needs homes which match the requirements of our diverse communities. The answer is not to build low-density new housing developments in areas without an economic justification to support them or to return to the days of concentrating deprivation in sink estates. What is needed is a well-designed mix of housing, public and private, owner-occupied and rental properties, integrated with the provision of jobs, services and public transport.”

RICS has advised that there are a number of areas that must be dealt with, such as investors need certainty on the future taxation of development and the desire for home ownership is increasing, but expectations for home ownership need to be managed, by providing quality and choice in both the owner-occupier and rental sectors.

Also, site assembly remains the outstanding blockage to regeneration and development in existing urban areas, and assembly bodies must be encouraged and resourced to use their compulsory purchase power. Existing housing stock must be improved, both in terms of the social sector and bringing empty homes back into use. Incentives must be put in place to achieve this, including a more level playing field between VAT on new build and on repair and refurbishment, 17.5%.

Sustainable communities are the goal. The supply of affordable housing must reflect the mix of demand, in terms of housing types, tenures and communities. A concentration of affordable housing in unsuitable locations must be avoided.

If key workers are to be able to live in the communities which they serve, government will have to take another look at its role as a direct provider of accommodation. The Planning Gain Supplement, as currently proposed, will not work and will not encourage the release of land for housing.

Joe Martin, executive director of building cost information service at RICS, says: “The winning designs offer a range of construction solutions, concentrating on producing a level of standardisation without reducing choice.

“If these designs can be delivered within budget they will produce better houses and improved value for money. Where land is available and real demand exists these developments should enable homes to be delivered faster and more efficiently.”