In his “Autumn Statement” of government spending and taxation plans, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced a new fund of £2.3 billion to deliver infrastructure for up to 100,000 new homes in high demand areas. The move follows the announcement in October of a fund to support the building of houses and is intended to make more land available and suitable for housing.
The government plans to build a million more homes by 2020, in what one minister has described as “the largest government-backed house building programme since the 1970s” in England.
The UK needs 240,000 new homes a year but is currently building only half that amount. Affordable housing is also a significant problem, with house prices rising far faster than inflation. The proportion of 25-34 year-olds who own their own home, for example, dropped dramatically from 59% in 2003 to 36% in 2013.
To minimise the destruction of countryside or farmland, the current focus of housing development in the UK is “brownfield” sites (those previously used for industrial or commercial purposes). In the southeast of Britain where demand for housing is greatest, research suggests these will be exhausted within the next ten-to-twenty years.
The housing shortage and consequent pressure on rental costs and house prices is especially acute in London. As a result, there is flight from the capital, with more people moving from London to other parts of the UK than arriving from the rest of the UK. London’s leavers frequently move to other parts of the southeast, however, where they become commuters, adding to traffic, pollution and congestion, as well as housing pressures in their new communities.
Despite the numbers fleeing London, high birth rates and international migration mean that its population is rising, and is set to reach nearly 10 million within a decade.
The UK’s population is expected to exceed 70 million by 2027. Increasing demand through rising population has driven house price inflation and a housing shortage which one study found has left 4.5 million people in housing need. The increase of approximately half-a-million people in the year to 2016 was the result of 335,000 people immigrating to Britain and a 171,100 rise in “natural growth” – births minus deaths.