Philip Waddy, managing director of multi-disciplinary architectural, planning and design consultancy and UK Property Forums partner WWA, argues that Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove could benefit from understanding some basic economics.

Michael Gove says ‘Britain needs more beautiful homes and communities’. I’ll vote for that, but how’s he going to do it?

In a recent article in the Daily Mail, Gove highlighted the scale of the crisis by quoting statistics that showed in 1995, some two thirds of people on average incomes owned their own home, whereas today it’s just a quarter. Wow!

And what do you suppose the reason for that is? Well, Gove says it’s all because the private rented sector prevents young people from saving enough to pay a deposit,  plus a benefits system which helps those on low incomes to pay rent but not a mortgage.

Finally, according to Gove, it’s because of a gradual decline in the aesthetic quality of new developments. Really? Not a squeak about the fundamental economics of supply and demand. What planet are you on Mr Gove? Let me explain.

Recently, a company called Tayto made a limited run of cheese and onion crisp flavoured chocolate bars. ‘Yuk’ I hear you say. Well, these confections were so popular that they are now changing hands at three times their original selling price.

It’s called supply and demand economics. Hence why house prices in some parts of the UK, where people don’t want to live, are at bargain prices while, in other places, where people actually need homes (ie the South East in particular), prices are stratospheric.

As an architect I’m all for improving quality in the design of mass-produced housing but that won’t solve the housing crisis, Mr Gove. It’s a sideshow – an important one perhaps – but nevertheless a sideshow.

Until the planning system is overhauled, I can’t see a way out of this conundrum. The 2020 White Paper might have made a difference but it’s been ditched in favour  of more tinkering around the edges of a system that’s, frankly, unfit for purpose.

Some say if planning were properly funded it might make for better outcomes and perhaps there’s truth in that, but when I qualified there were no planning fees and the system was vastly superior to what we have today.

The real issue is the relentless escalation of detailed policies in planning which creates ever increasing complexity and that needs addressing urgently.

One way would be to remove detailed technical standards that could better be dealt with later on at the Building Regulation stage. For example, minimum space standards and energy performance targets.

In the meantime Mr Gove, don’t blame the private rented sector for a decline in home ownership. That sector has only grown because of – yes you’ve guessed it – supply and demand economics!

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