Building on brownfield sites could be the ideal solution to avert a housing crisis

An article in yesterday’s Independent, ‘What is the solution? Build more homes on brownfield sites’ (www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/lets-build-more-homes-on-brownfield-sites-8817973.html) highlighted the extent of the UK’s housing crisis, with supply failing to keep up with the needs of Britain’s growing population.

Last year the Department for Communities and Local Government issued figures for England suggesting that of the 62,000 hectares of ‘brownfield sites’ available, roughly half is suitable for house building, enough for 1.5 million homes.

Last year new-builds in England fell by 11 per cent to below 100,000, when it has been cited that 300,000 a year is needed to keep up with housing demand, so why aren’t more brownfield sites being marked out for housing?

For many years we have been urging government to build more retirement property on brownfield sites. There is a chronic shortage of appropriate retirement property in the UK and we believe that developing brownfield sites is part of the solution. With the population of over 65s in the UK set to grow from 10 million today to 17 million by 2033 the need to build is becoming urgent.

We are supporting the Home Builders Federation ‘Campaign for Housing in Later Life’ launched last week in Westminster by TV personality Esther Rantzen. At the launch, Ms Rantzen presented a report from think tank, Demos, called ‘Top of the Ladder’, that highlighted the shortage of appropriate retirement housing, calling it the ‘next big housing crisis’.

£400bn is tied up in the homes of over 60 year olds who want to downsize. If there were more options available, these people could move and free up family homes for those desperate to get onto the housing ladder. In the media recently there has been a lot of criticism directed at elderly people who are said to own expensive housing stock to the detriment of the younger generation. This is unfair. These people may well choose to release this stock if there were more appropriate housing available.

The report from Demos claims that helping older people move from under occupied homes would free up 3.29 million properties, including 2 million three bedroom homes and reinvigorate the bottom of the ladder. Equate these figures with the 3.5 million people over 60 in the UK who are interested in retirement housing and you may believe we have found the answer to the problem. But there are only about 150,000 retirement units available in the private sector; the majority mostly for purchase with about 2% for rental and a further 350,000 in the social sector with Housing Associations.

With just 1% of the UK population living in retirement housing compared to 17% in the USA and 13% in Austria, government across all political parties needs to take this report seriously and work together to solve this impending crisis.

Yes, Britain urgently needs more housing stock. We all know this. Part of the solution is to utilise brownfield sites and build more retirement property which fulfils the needs of today’s aspirational retiree. However, there is no need for these sites to be sold outright by local authorities. To keep building costs down why not lease brownfield sites on peppercorn rents to developers? In this way local authorities retain ownership, receive income and ensure extreme profits are not being made by developers.

We may stand a chance of averting a housing crisis – but only if government acts now.

To download the report, go to: www.demos.co.uk

For more information on the Campaign for Housing in Later Life go to: http://housinginlaterlife.co.uk/

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