Housing, poverty and the planning system

Twenty-nine per cent of English homes are not ‘decent’ places to live, according to the latest edition of the English House Condition Survey.

They fail to meet the ‘decent homes standard’, a measure of the quality of the housing stock, which includes criteria such as state of repair, health and safety, damp and mould, and heating and insulation.

The decent homes standard is not intended to be a measure of poverty or even a proxy, but it could be viewed as an important component. Indeed, the Poverty Site lists this index as one dimension of poverty. And unlike many ‘poverty’ measures, which equate income inequality with ‘social exclusion’, this indicator is based on concrete information about the conditions people experience in the real world.

Current anti-poverty policies are often synonymous with income redistribution – new entitlements are created and existing ones expanded. But this kind of government programme would be unlikely to solve the problem of ‘housing poverty’.

The proportion of people occupying non-decent homes does not vary enormously across income quintiles or tenures. The main determinant of housing quality is dwelling age – the older the building, the worse the performance.

An effective way to tackle housing poverty is therefore to allow more new homes to be built. This means thinking about alternatives to the UK’s highly restrictive land-use planning system.

Great post – and it’s not just planning controls that restrict the supply of low-cost housing – it’s also complex building regulations that raise construction costs hugely.

Dear Sirs, this sort of comment ignores certain realities. Firstly Britain has 25 million homes or thereabouts. To imply that a third of these are in some way deficient sounds like nonsenese, but assuming its true surely the question is. Why? What happens is that many state dependent people simply let the place they are in deteriorate around them. In short they do not give a damm. Let someone else pick up the bill. For those who own a property maintenance is just a part of costs.

Dear Barry,
so I take it there is no correlation between:
1. the type of planning regime adopted
2. the supply of building land
3. the number of new homes built per year
4. the price-performance ratio of housing?“state dependent people simply let the place they are in deteriorate”
“maintenance is just a part of costs”
Then why is it particularly English housing that has such a terrible reputation on the continent? Are there no state-dependent people elsewhere? Is maintenance for free elsewhere?

Kris, Britain has no housing shortage, unless that is you want everyone to live alone. So what the planning regime etc has got to do with it I do not know. This is an overcrowded island that needs land to grow food as well as recreation. We cannot go on building for ever given the future that is being designed for us. ie, one with limited energy, restricted transport and so on. This is the broader picture. Sorry to be curt, space is limited, I am not trying to be rude.

Barry,
1. “overcrowded island”
-a popular myth. Population density in the UK is about 250 per square-km, much lower than e.g. the Dutch and Belgian figures, roughly equal to the German one, and very low compared to South Korea or Japan.
2. “needs land to grow food”
-Why? We could import cheaper and better food.
3. “unless you want everyone to live alone”
Household size in the UK is quite European average.
4. “no housing shortage”:http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/images/libimages/143.pdf

Barry is entitled to argue that green space is valuable and we should not build on it (externality arguments). However, the cost of that policy is that housing is in shorter supply (building land costs more than agricultural land) and that means that housing is more expensive and/or of a lower quality. It is ALSO true to say that government policy encourages household splitting and this raises housing costs and leads land that is released for building to be used inefficiently.

Kris, Sorry to disagree, the issue is useful land. Your figures are distorted by Scotland which has large areas unsuitable for development even if anyone wanted to live there. The SE is overcrowded.Re cheaper food from abroad. Who says that will continue, the future is unknown, we need to grow our own food, or at least a substantial proportion of it.You appear ignore the influences of future energy planning, well there isn’t any, arggh sorry no space to say what I want to say….

Dear Barry,
don’t worry, if everyone agreed, I could as well retire.
The “overcrowded Southeast” perception is refuted as well in the paper I linked to.
But we shouldn’t forget that we are both arguing within a wrong system. What is the “optimal” allocation of land between the ends of housing, farming, and recreation? Neither of us can know. I am not simply saying “build! build! build!”, but rather, I would like to see a diversity of planning regimes with internalisation of costs.

The issue about the Decent Homes Standard is that it is entirely arbitrary and does not relate to any objective standard. However, one of the results of paying so much attention to this standard is that there is too little money left to build new dwellings. Also social housing is often now at a higher standard of amenity than new owner occupied dwellings. Another consequence is that housing falling below the standard is called ‘indecent’ which is patently absurd.

Peter:
There are no “objective” standards. Any index is to some degree arbitrary. I am not a housing assessor and can therefore not judge whether this particular measurement is a good one or not. But at least the categories seem to be sensible ones, and the results match other more qualitative evidence that I have seen so far. Anyway, the correlation between dwelling age and index score is so strong that even if it was imprecise, there would still be a strong enough case to relax planning laws.

Great post – and it’s not just planning controls that restrict the supply of low-cost housing – it’s also complex building regulations that raise construction costs hugely.

Dear Sirs, this sort of comment ignores certain realities. Firstly Britain has 25 million homes or thereabouts. To imply that a third of these are in some way deficient sounds like nonsenese, but assuming its true surely the question is. Why? What happens is that many state dependent people simply let the place they are in deteriorate around them. In short they do not give a damm. Let someone else pick up the bill. For those who own a property maintenance is just a part of costs.

Dear Barry,
so I take it there is no correlation between:
1. the type of planning regime adopted
2. the supply of building land
3. the number of new homes built per year
4. the price-performance ratio of housing?“state dependent people simply let the place they are in deteriorate”
“maintenance is just a part of costs”
Then why is it particularly English housing that has such a terrible reputation on the continent? Are there no state-dependent people elsewhere? Is maintenance for free elsewhere?

Kris, Britain has no housing shortage, unless that is you want everyone to live alone. So what the planning regime etc has got to do with it I do not know. This is an overcrowded island that needs land to grow food as well as recreation. We cannot go on building for ever given the future that is being designed for us. ie, one with limited energy, restricted transport and so on. This is the broader picture. Sorry to be curt, space is limited, I am not trying to be rude.

Barry,
1. “overcrowded island”
-a popular myth. Population density in the UK is about 250 per square-km, much lower than e.g. the Dutch and Belgian figures, roughly equal to the German one, and very low compared to South Korea or Japan.
2. “needs land to grow food”
-Why? We could import cheaper and better food.
3. “unless you want everyone to live alone”
Household size in the UK is quite European average.
4. “no housing shortage”:http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/images/libimages/143.pdf

Barry is entitled to argue that green space is valuable and we should not build on it (externality arguments). However, the cost of that policy is that housing is in shorter supply (building land costs more than agricultural land) and that means that housing is more expensive and/or of a lower quality. It is ALSO true to say that government policy encourages household splitting and this raises housing costs and leads land that is released for building to be used inefficiently.

Kris, Sorry to disagree, the issue is useful land. Your figures are distorted by Scotland which has large areas unsuitable for development even if anyone wanted to live there. The SE is overcrowded.Re cheaper food from abroad. Who says that will continue, the future is unknown, we need to grow our own food, or at least a substantial proportion of it.You appear ignore the influences of future energy planning, well there isn’t any, arggh sorry no space to say what I want to say….

Dear Barry,
don’t worry, if everyone agreed, I could as well retire.
The “overcrowded Southeast” perception is refuted as well in the paper I linked to.
But we shouldn’t forget that we are both arguing within a wrong system. What is the “optimal” allocation of land between the ends of housing, farming, and recreation? Neither of us can know. I am not simply saying “build! build! build!”, but rather, I would like to see a diversity of planning regimes with internalisation of costs.

The issue about the Decent Homes Standard is that it is entirely arbitrary and does not relate to any objective standard. However, one of the results of paying so much attention to this standard is that there is too little money left to build new dwellings. Also social housing is often now at a higher standard of amenity than new owner occupied dwellings. Another consequence is that housing falling below the standard is called ‘indecent’ which is patently absurd.

Peter:
There are no “objective” standards. Any index is to some degree arbitrary. I am not a housing assessor and can therefore not judge whether this particular measurement is a good one or not. But at least the categories seem to be sensible ones, and the results match other more qualitative evidence that I have seen so far. Anyway, the correlation between dwelling age and index score is so strong that even if it was imprecise, there would still be a strong enough case to relax planning laws.

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