Leading think-tank Policy Exchange has published a new report that recommends ways in which communities can control their own development and create a “post-COVID housing boom”.

Policy Exchange is an independent, non-partisan educational charity whose mission is to to develop new policy ideas that aim to deliver “better public services and a more dynamic economy”.

The report, entitled “Strong Suburbs: Enabling streets to control their own development”, was co-ordinated by Ben Southwood and Dr Samuel Hughes.

Value of residential homes sold fell by 38% in 2020

Southwood is head of housing, transport and urban space at Policy Exchange, with previous experience including as a management consultant at KPMG and an economics correspondent for City A.M..

Dr Samuel Hughes is a senior fellow at Policy Exchange and a research fellow at the University of Oxford, and his focus at Policy Exchange is on understanding why the quantity and quality of new homes and neighbourhoods is so inadequate, and on developing policy instruments to improve them.

The report proposes that residents of a street should be able to agree by majority on new “strict” rules for designs to make better use of their plots.

A street plan, the report suggests, would greatly increase the value of residents’ homes which would be strong grounds to agree to such proposals.

“We need a scheme that creates more good homes and better places in a way that shares the benefits with existing residents and communities, so they may become enthusiastic advocates of building rather than vigorous opponents,” the report outlines.

The Strong Suburbs publication suggests that these proposals would foster “gentle intensification within approximately half a mile of existing transport and town centres”, which in turn would create better and greener places with more customers supporting struggling local high streets.

Older residents, using this framework, would be able to agree to permit the creation of generously-sized and stair-free new homes that will meet their needs in retirement for decades to come, with supported living options as they age according to the report.

Policy Exchange suggest that this proposed model could create a further 110,000 homes each year for the next 15 years, all with consent of existing residents and not requiring any greenfield or greenbelt land.

In addition, on streets that agree to allow typical forms of “gentle intensification”, the average participating homeowner would reportedly make £900,000, while the local authority would get an average of £79,000 for every new property delivered.

The boom would mean an extra £34bn spent on construction each year and may generate as much as 0.5pp extra annual GDP growth, the report suggests.

Light plane rules, rules stopping ‘garden grabbing’, rules on height, and rules restricting how much onstreet parking are just some of the agreed rules new residents could enforce on their street.

This proposal outlines that redevelopment of listed and pre-1918 properties would be prohibited, as would development in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Each scheme will also need to ensure that residents who wish to return are rehoused in a high-quality home for the interim period of the construction on the original plot; with the large economic potential ideally making it easy to fund such provision.

The report also suggests reforms to ensure “generous provision” of social infrastructure, including schools, buses and GP surgeries, so that the needs of any new residents are met without placing pressure on existing communities.

In addition, Policy Exchange’s report propose Capital Gains Tax be levied on the value uplift resulting from a street vote, and its revenues hypothecated to local authorities, as well as stamp duty being partly redirected, temporarily, also to local authorities.

These measures would generate huge revenues for both local authorities and the Treasury, providing resources to improve services for the whole community, the report outlines.

A net-zero whole life carbon condition would be imposed on all redevelopment of homes through street votes, to improve the current issue of existing housing stock being poorly insulated.

As future governments phase out gas boilers street votes, as proposed by this report, could provide the funds for existing homeowners to pay the costs of insulating and re-plumbing their homes to adapt them for heat pumps.

“Unlocking community support for development could arrest the steep fall in homeownership among younger generations.

“It could yield beautiful and popular streets in the best traditions of British urbanism.

“It could relieve pressure on greenbelts for a generation to come.

“And it could generate an economic boom built on outdoor jobs that would reinvigorate the economy after COVID-19, just as the 1930s housing boom pulled Britain out of the Great Depression,” the report outlines.

Chair of housing design specialists HTA Design LLP Ben Derbyshire welcomed the Policy Exchange report, and urged policy makers to take note of its proposals in order to address “long-standing obstacles to the well-being of our surburbs”.

In his foreword in the report, Derbyshire outlined that in five years, London is supposed to deliver 93,000 new homes per year, which is double the current target.

The London Plan, Derbyshire suggests, is founded on the principle of “Sustainable Intensification” and he outlines that is such targets are to delivered alongside the target of a net zero economy by 2050, the industry must find ways “to accommodate its burgeoning households without urban sprawl and with improved energy efficiency”.

“Once in place, a policy framework such as this will be a terrific stimulus for popular housing development and local economic activity.

“The development process will transform many equity rich, cash poor households, enliven local services and provide opportunities for SMEs to deliver a hassle-free development process for communities with potential to improve the lives of many in declining suburban areas,” says Derbyshire.

The foreword of the report suggests that previous schemes to address the housing shortage and widening gaps between prices and construction costs have failed, because homeowners have “generally seen development as placing large burdens on them without any corresponding benefits”.

Christopher Boyle QC and Neil Cameron QC, both of Landmark Chambers, were one of many who endorsed these proposals.

Boyle, who is also chairman of the Georgian Group, said: “This is an excellent proposal, which could make an immense contribution to resolving the housing shortage.

“When land values rose during the Georgian era, they built up, bequeathing us many of our most prized streets.

“This powerful and sophisticated proposal offers a way of doing this again, letting us create beautiful streets that we treasure for centuries.”

Cameron added: “By devolving planning powers to the street level, the proposals have the potential to resolve the tension between residents’ desire to protect their immediate environment and landowners’ desire to realise development opportunities, to the benefit of all.”

The report can be viewed on the Policy Exchange website.