Sarah Beeny, Host of Property Ladder, founder of Tepilo.com and founder of MySingleFriend.com, on why going on house building binge is crazy
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There is a notion that if you build more homes, prices will come down. I personally find this a pretty unlikely – indeed, almost ludicrous – solution to Britain’s housing crisis. That works with diamonds, not homes. Yes, we need more homes. But we need to invest resources in developments that could alleviate the situation faster and better, rather than randomly constructing homes in places where no-one necessarily wants to live. So what could we do that might be more effective?
Putting existing homes to better use
It’s high time we reconsider the general opinion that multi-generational living is a bad or ‘uncool’ thing. The idea of just one person, or even one couple, living in each house is not necessarily the best thing for communities.
There are so many middle-aged Britons who want to go to work but can’t because they can’t afford childcare. Meanwhile, their parents live alone somewhere else and social services need to tend to them. The most obvious solution for these problems is to have the grandparents, parents and children all under one roof. The grandparents can childmind, and be cared for by their families. I am all for the government providing a tax break to such families, as this way of living helps address so many problems in one go.
We also need to address our ridiculous planning restrictions. There can be no reasonable excuse for why a homeowner has to wait often well in excess of two months to get planning permission for the smallest extension in the world. In April, the House of Commons passed plans to allow conservatories and house extensions of up to eight metres to be built without planning permission, which is a good start – but we need to go further.
There’s endless paperwork for planning permission that is too complex for the average homeowner to do themselves, loading costs of ‘advisors’ really high, as well as utterly unnecessary reports and red tape. Freeing people to extend in a simpler way would create more jobs than the local authority has to offer currently through the handling of planning permission bureaucracy.
Taking the strain off cities
Another less obvious solution to the housing catastrophe would be to introduce shorter working weeks. This could incentivise people working in cities to look at living in villages or the countryside further afield, as people would still have a decent amount of time at home before and after their commute. Homes outside of cities are of course cheaper, more available, and the quality of life better than in cities.
To further encourage people to move to the countryside, and take the strain off our overpopulated cities, more high-quality schools with smaller classes and better facilities should be opened outside cities in less popular areas. A top school will lure people to consider buying homes in a no-go area, which could reduce the number of empty homes in these areas. Planners need to address these issues instead of blindly going on a homebuilding overdrive. There’s no doubt that building a raft of new homes can temporarily create jobs, but it’s not a fool-proof solution to our housing crisis. And I believe it will not contribute to the economy in a sustainable way in the long-run, nor benefit society as a whole.
- Multi-generational living should be incentivised by tax breaks
- We should be allowed to extend homes more freely
- A joined-up government strategy would encourage more people to live in rural areas
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