What can be done to address the housing crisis in Suffolk and Essex?
The final part of our housing investigation looks at possible solutions to the shortage in affordable homes.
House prices are rising faster than wages, too few homes are being built to meet demand and the market is struggling to adapt.
Our series on the region’s housing crisis has painted a bleak picture for the future of housing and the communities that depend upon it.
Yesterday, Halifax announced its latest housing figures, which found average prices across the UK had increased by 9.7% on the year up to January - the highest rate since July 2014. It said prices were likely to continue rising “as the imbalance between supply and demand continues to exert significant upward pressure on house prices”.
But while developers, planners and politicians acknowledged problems with the system, they have also highlighted new strategies to address the shortfall in supply.
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Whether it be planning authorities resuming old house building responsibilities, or calls for changes in policy, the scale of the crisis affecting the region has inspired a new approach within the industry
Planners take new steps to address “crisis” in ownership
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Ipswich Borough Council is looking to develop homes of its own in recognition of the challenges it faces.
John Mowles, who is responsible for housing at the council, said 108 new homes on the site off Bader Close was due to be completed soon, representing the biggest council house project in Ipswich for half a century.
Others have been built off Ulster Avenue, Coltsfoot Road and Whitton Church Lane, with further sites identified in the programme.
“Our aim is to build 1,000 new homes in a decade,” Mr Mowles added.
He said the council had taken the decision in response to a “crisis” in housing shortages and the increasing cost of buying or renting a home as well as the depletion in availability of council and housing association properties.
“This issue is a priority,” he added. “While we alone cannot meet the need and demand, we are doing what we can to help by encouraging the provision of more realistically affordable homes by developers and by way of our own house-building programme.”
Suffolk Coastal District Council has also taken new steps to address the housing crisis.
Cabinet members agreed on Tuesday to invest £1.68million in developer contributions, which will be used to help fund new affordable homes.
The council is also appointing a housing enabling officer to work with communities and developers to look at a range of options to address the shortage of affordable homes, particularly in rural areas.
Richard Kerry, cabinet member for housing, said: “Providing more affordable homes is one of our key priorities.
“The current situation is breaking up our communities. Young people on low incomes and elderly residents looking to down-size are being forced out of the communities they want to live in.”
Head of housing Justin Hunt said the options available included the council buying sites to develop itself or in partnership with local builders.
In Babergh, where house prices have grown at the region’s quickest rate, the district council said it was looking to “unlock the barriers to growth” by speeding up the planning process and involving communities in the process earlier.
Tom Barker, head of planning for growth, said the council was working on a new local plan to determine the location of future development and to adopt the community infrastructure levy “to help fund infrastructure in a more planned way”.
He said the council was looking to support small developers and promote schemes such as self build, shared equity and starter homes.
In Tendring, where ONS figures indicate just 10 affordable homes were delivered last year, there are plans for a garden city.
Neil Stock, leader of Tendring District Council, said: “We have agreed our housing targets and are working to ensure that they get delivered with the right infrastructure in the right place at the right time.
“One of the sites under consideration is land east of Colchester and west of Frating; here we are looking at the garden city principles to achieve a settlement up to 6,000 homes that is well-designed, with infrastructure up front and with good access to jobs.”
Housing industry calls for speedier planning process
Developers and industry representatives have called for planning reforms.
James Hopkins, executive chairman of Hopkins Homes, highlighted concerns that planning bureaucracy was hindering the supply of housing.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” he added.
“I am not in favour of building houses for the sake of it; instead the system needs reforming so that appropriate amounts of land for housing is allocated quickly and then developers can get on with building without lengthy additional planning applications.
“In return for a much speedier planning process, developers should commit to working with local people to ensure that developments enhance existing communities and above all commit to delivering high quality design that is in keeping with the look and feel of the area and which residents can be proud of.”
Commenting on the national housing shortage, the House Builders Federation, highlighted the need to speed up the rate at which permissions are granted.
“Too many sites are stuck in the planning system, with an estimated 150,000 plots awaiting full sign off by local authorities,” a spokesman added.
Campaigners say more investment is needed
Housing campaigners have said planning authorities and the Government need to invest more in delivering affordable homes.
Labour politician Jane Basham, who works with homeless people in Ipswich, called on Suffolk councils to protect the local economy.
She said local people ought to be put in the “driving seat” to determine the supply of new housing, rather than landowners and “the political elite”. Mrs Basham also for greater regulation in the private rental sector, as well as the abolition of the “bedroom tax” and right to buy schemes.
Housing charity Shelter said Government needs to invest more money into house building “to get the ball rolling”.
“Not only will this help us to deliver more homes, but every £1 invested in house-building leads to £3.51 going back into the economy,” a spokesman added.
Shelter also called for an end to restrictive planning laws, to create a “new wave of garden cities and towns across the country”.
“Together these policies, alongside other smaller measures, will ensure we build the homes our country needs in the long term,” the spokesman added.
Government announces ‘biggest boldest’ housing plan
The Government has pledged £8 billion to deliver 400,000 affordable homes by 2020 as part of the “biggest, boldest and most ambitious plan for housing in a generation”.
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “Latest figures show a 34% rise in the number of affordable homes in Suffolk over the past year, but we want to do more.
“Government initiatives have already helped nearly 270,000 people to buy and we are going even further to deliver 200,000 new starter homes, available at a 20% discount to first-time buyers.”
Schemes such as the “Help to Buy ISA” have been launched in a bid to help people get on the property ladder.
First-time buyers can invest up to £200 a month into the ISA, with the government adding 25% to the closing balance up to a maximum of £3,000 to help fund housing deposits.
Recent analysis by Halifax found that half of prospective first-time buyers were set to open a Help to Buy ISA.
Other Government backed initiatives include the Starter Home scheme, which saw planning requirements reduced to allow builder to cut 20% off the usual prices of houses for first time buyers.