Sir John Armitt: Council houses ‘only way to reach 300,000 homes goal’

A huge expansion of council housing, including using the green belt, will be needed to meet Boris Johnson’s “build, build, build” commitments, a government infrastructure adviser has said.

Chris Smyth, Whitehall Editor www.thetimes.co.uk 
Sir John Armitt suggested that the government was stuck in the 1980s with “ideological” objections to social housing as he warned that tweaking the planning system was not enough to hit a target of 300,000 homes a year.He told The Times: “I’ve made this point to housing ministers over the last couple of years on a number of occasions. Clearly they don’t agree. But I am convinced that we will not get to what we need to get to if we rely simply on the private sector.”

Sir John, chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, told Mr Johnson it was “man-on-the-moon time” for his goal of making Britain carbon neutral by 2050, saying the government needed an urgent focus on developing hydrogen boilers and to “get off the pot” by deciding on how many nuclear power stations to build.

Last week Mr Johnson promised radical reform of the planning system in a “new deal” designed to rebuild the country and stimulate the economy.

Sir John said the planning system was not the main obstacle to affordable homes and that there was no point hoping “somebody’s going to decide that they’re going to build lots of homes, even though there isn’t a market for the homes or they’re not going to make a profit”.

“The last time we built 300,000 homes plus was in the 1960s and 1970s, 50 per cent of those were private sector homes, 50 per cent delivered by local authorities,” he said. “To get to 300,000 personally, I don’t see how we get there in a meaningful way without some sort of government intervention with local authorities, or with the housing associations, to deliver more affordable homes on a large scale.”

Figures released last week suggested that just 4,000 homes for social rent would be built this year, the lowest level since the Second World War.

Sir John said: “If you want to increase that figure much higher, you can’t rely on the private sector, because the business case just isn’t in there within the private sector model.”

The ministry of housing said: “We’re taking steps to ensure more much-needed social housing is delivered by removing the borrowing cap for councils and we are spending more than £12 billion on affordable housing from 2021 — the biggest cash investment in a decade.”

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