We live in turbulent, divisive times. The lack of affordable housing is one of the biggest problems facing society and it is taking its toll on families, careers and individual lives every day as people struggle to put down roots, not to mention enjoy a reasonable quality of life.
I want to help find solutions to this crisis. That’s why I joined the RTPI this month to work on housing policy. There are few better places to do this than an organisation with 24,000 members working on the frontline of development.
My new role comes at a time of major uncertainty in society and politics. However, I also see a great opportunity to promote proactive planning as a way to secure affordable housing.
I want to build on RTPI's work by developing the ideas, partnerships and narratives needed to identify and communicate solutions. And crucially, by learning from planners around the UK about solutions that can work in practice.
A turbulent climate for politics and housing
Turbulence in politics has reached new heights in recent years and months. An unexpected election delivered a shock result which denied Theresa May the majority she had sought. Now there is talk of yet another election in the coming year.
In the housing world, Gavin Barwell lost his seat at the recent election. This means there have now been six housing ministers since 2010. His replacement, Alok Sharma, has immediately been presented with one of the worst housing disasters in modern UK-history with the fire in Grenfell Tower.
There have also been several major shocks that have challenged popular understanding of society and its issues. Confident predictions about Brexit and elections proved foolhardy. Issues that were once fringe have become mainstream. Decades of relative homogeneity in British politics have been replaced by an increasing divide between, and even within, political parties.
But things might be moving
There is one thing that everyone seems to agree on: there is a crisis in affordable housing and it needs to be addressed, immediately.
In January, the Conservative Government published a white paper on ‘Fixing our broken housing market’, and the recent Queen’s Speech reiterated support for the plans it laid out. The Conservative manifesto hinted at further reforms. Labour’s dedicated housing manifesto promised a new Department for Housing and a million new homes in the next parliament.
Housing is consistently amongst the most important issues for voters. Whilst politicians have been slow to tackle this crisis, it now feels like there is sufficient need, momentum and demand for change.
Supporting this momentum for change
Before joining RTPI I worked on land use policy at Shared Assets, a ‘think and do’ tank dedicated to supporting common good land use. We aimed to show how the way land is used and controlled impacts the things people care about, be that the environment, food, health and wellbeing, or of course housing. Planning is at the heart the use and control of land, and like RTPI, Shared Assets sees pro-active planning as an important way to tackle many of society’s issues.
The RTPI is in a great position to identify and push for the required changes. I firmly believe in the Institute’s work in championing pro-active planning as a key part of the solution to the housing crisis. Planning can help create places people want to live in, provide confidence for investment, and establish a stronger framework for development.
I had been aware of the RTPI’s excellent work before I joined. ‘Better Planning for Housing Affordability’ is a brilliant starting point for anyone wanting to understand the crisis in affordable housing and the role of planning. The RTPI is currently involved in exciting research on local authority-led house building; large scale developments in the South-West; planning permission and development finance, and land value capture. The Institute enjoys valuable partnerships with key stakeholders in the housing world and government.
I want to build on this by developing the ideas, partnerships and narratives needed to identify and communicate solutions. And crucially, by learning from planners around the UK about solutions that can work in practice. The RTPI has 24,000 members who have unique insight into the barriers to delivering affordable housing. One of my key ambitions in this role will be to take as much learning as possible from these experts.
If you have any thoughts on the direction of this work please leave a comment or get in touch. I’m particularly keen to hear about examples of where pro-active planning has helped deliver affordable housing.
Policy Officer, RTPI
Tom Kenny leads on housing affordability for the policy and research team at RTPI. You can find him on twitter @tomekenny.