Britain must build more houses. Last year, only 136,000 homes were completed in England. But 250,000 new homes a year are required if the Government is to meet its targets of 1 million new homes by 2020.
In particular Sadiq Khan, the new Mayor of London, is in a unique position right at the start of his term to deliver the new homes the Capital desperately needs. At least 130,000 new homes could be built on surplus public sector land alone. In a new report A Convergence of Interests, published by the Centre for Policy Studies on Friday 20 May, Keith Boyfield and Daniel Greenberg argue that all the pre-conditions are in place to allow a rapid increase in house building: ‘Nimbyism’ appears to be in fast decline as more and more people appreciate the need for more housing; Institutional capital is increasingly interested in investing in housing developments and infrastructure and many local authorities are considering ambitious new developments; and those which are not will be encouraged to do so through the Government’s requirement to identify a target figure for new homes in their Local Plans.
The authors urge the Government to exploit the opportunity with a simple and innovative policy approach: Pink Zones. It has been reported that local councils are set to receive powers to create “a new wave of garden towns and cities” in this week’s Queen’s Speech. Pink Zones would provide a simple procedure to achieve this aim. Dubbed pink because they provide a diluted regulatory regime compared with the red tape that characterises the current paralysed planning system, Pink Zones would: provide a streamlined planning system for the construction of vibrant, attractive and prosperous new residential developments underpinned by social and physical infrastructure; work from the bottom up – not the top down – bringing together local residents, developers and councils to achieve consensus over new development and accelerate the development process; increase competition, bypass many current planning regulations and improve design standards.
Pink Zones have already been successfully implemented in the US – in cities such as Phoenix, Arizona. The authors also note that it should be accepted that some areas currently classified as greenbelt will need to be re-designated. However, if this is handled with sensitivity for local concerns, this should not be a problem – not least as the amount of land designated as greenbelt has more than doubled since 1979; some of it hardly ‘green’. Keith Boyfield explains: “In the past a great number of housing developments were built in the UK by private entities – in some cases of a philanthropic nature, such as Bournville. Pink Zones could trigger institutional funding for investment in new housing – institutions such as life insurance companies, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and charitable foundations.
Ultimately Pink Zones would create more and better homes for people throughout the country and tackle the poverty of aspiration which typifies much residential construction in this country. Our Pink Planning proposals create a mechanism whereby a convergence of interests can be taken forward. By encouraging Special Purpose Vehicles to emerge, Pink Planning, with its streamlined planning framework and a single consenting regime, can bring together all the relevant parties to create new developments that are finely tuned to the needs of individual communities.”