The three main messages from the research are:
- There is no one single measure that will solve the problem – all countries struggle with balancing the need to constrain urban sprawl with the need to build sufficient homes to keep housing (more) affordable.
- But some countries, while having hot spots with high demand for housing and pressure on urban boundaries, do provide adequately outside these high pressure areas.
- Successful countries appear to be much more pro-active in the land market than the UK.
The review identifies measures taken successfully in other countries to bring more land forward for housing. These include using urban growth limits to prevent urban sprawl, but pro-actively monitoring and adjusting boundaries over time. In many countries local authorities play an active role in land assembly, often using compulsory purchase powers.
Several countries have mechanisms to ensure that infrastructure is in place prior to planned development and land readjustment processes also provide for infrastructure. Many countries offer compensation and incentive mechanisms, usually in the form of increased benefits to local authorities. Underpinning many of these mechanisms are forms of land value capture (in zoning systems) or planning gain in the English context. It includes infrastructure charges, inclusionary zoning to provide affordable housing, and land value taxation.
However, the review shows that in the UK we have many of these mechanisms already available or in place in some form. So there is a need to modify the planning and land supply framework to create an overall coherent policy and make wider use of these mechanisms, rather than start from scratch. For example, we have urban growth limits in the form of greenbelts, but we often treat them as fixed. The green belt is too large and often in the wrong places. It excludes development of some highly accessible sites where we could build without losing the countryside, if we treated growth management boundaries more flexibly.
We have other mechanisms, such as incentives, but need to find ways to make them more effective. One issue the review identified is that smaller planning units can be more responsive and effective at bringing land forward for housing. Neighbourhood planning in the UK may be a step in the right direction. In some countries, such as the Netherlands, local authorities purchase land, service it and divide it into smaller parcels, and sell these on to house builders at a price that covers the servicing costs. While local authorities in the UK are reluctant to tie up funds to purchase land, some have been successful in ensuring that new homes are being built, for example in Cambridge where a rolling fund originally enabled by the city’s designation as a growth area has been used to ‘lend’ developers the money to unlock infrastructure constraints on new housing schemes.
Without action to increase the supply of housing, affordability will worsen. This review identifies measures which could be used more widely to bring more land forward for housing in the UK and help ensure people have access to affordable housing in the places they want to live.