Building millions more homes – do the arguments stack up?

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has just released housing data from the 2021 census for England and Wales compared with 2011.

This seems to have provoked a frenzy of similar local media reports across the country, including our own. All seem to take the same quote from the Institute for Policy Research. This picks up on an increase of 8% in the number of unoccupied houses in England to argue that the Government should look again at policies to curb or control holiday homes, short-term lets, and empty homes; and to build millions more homes.

Although the ONS comparison shows an increase in unoccupied dwelling in the “South West”. There has been little change within Devon. 

In Devon the picture is one of greater variations between districts than over time. 

The highest unoccupied rates in Devon are in North Devon (12%) and South Hams (15%). These coincide with those districts reporting greatest  problems with housing affordability. Second homes are likely to be a factor but not the only one. The unoccupied rate for East Devon is 8%. Second Homes in East Devon amount to 4% so can only account for half of the unoccupied total.

Caveat: Census 2021 was carried out during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, some people, for example overseas students or those privately renting, may have moved back in with family members leaving more unoccupied dwellings. [Seems to affected the Exeter numbers].

Nationally, the pattern of highest unoccupied rates fall perhaps where you might expect them to: in the tourist hotspots, and around the coast.

The lack of affordable homes is a major concern. It is a complex subject and Owl will address this in greater depth later, laying out the  historic failure of Tory administrations at local and national level to deliver the affordable housing we need.

This will be a challenge to the Tory election pledge 4 claim: “We will work to ensure that there are sufficient affordable homes that our community requires” given that unfettered development has been their driving philosophy for a couple of decades.

Meanwhile, Owl thinks it a bit of a stretch to argue from these figures that our problems will be solved by building millions more houses.