Housing challenges in the UK aren’t a new concern, but they’ve been exacerbated by the financial pressures of the pandemic.

At least 280,000 people in the UK are now homeless, with this figure expected to rise over the next year. Meanwhile thousands more are trapped in unsuitable housing or struggling to find a first-time investment. In a bid to support the drive for more housing, the government has committed to building 300,000 new homes a year, alongside developing plans to reform the planning system.

The importance of homes

Having a safe, secure and affordable home should be a basic human right. But as populations have increased and house prices have risen faster than salaries, many people have found themselves unable to find the right home. The pandemic has caused people to rethink their living arrangements and priorities, which has also impacted the supply and demand of housing.

In our post-Brexit world, UK companies will be keen to continue attracting the best staff in order to effectively compete. This will mean recruiting from abroad as well as other parts of the country, leading to an even greater demand for good quality housing. It’s crucial we ensure that there’s a variety of choices to accommodate everyone, so that different requirements can be met. For some this might mean a family home in a commuter zone, for other it might be a small urban development. It’s important that we continue to assess what the demand will look like over the coming years, so that we can invest in the right type of housing in the right areas.


The new planning white paper published by the government has been designed to support the delivery of suitable housing. As part of the Build Back Better and Levelling Up agenda, specific areas of the UK will be selected for additional investment in infrastructure, skills and innovation. However, we must be careful to make sure that programmes deliver for all communities, so existing gaps aren’t widened and that regions are treated fairly.

Good planning and design is a vital part of building sustainable communities, helping to increase property values, reduce crime and contribute to public health. Design codes are an important part of the new white paper, and have the potential to help us deliver better quality and more suitable accommodation. This will involve the participation of local governments, to help determine the location, size and type of properties needed. In some areas, homes are too similar and don’t provide enough variety.

What really needs to change?

Planners are often easy targets when things go wrong in the system, but there can be legitimate reasons behind delays. We need to find new ways to ensure that good plans can be swiftly approved and built by the right developers in a timely manner. Following on from Sir Oliver Letwin’s government-commissioned report in 2018, it’s also clear that we need to assess the gap between completed housing projects and the amount of land allocated for projects. The report found that in areas of high housing demand, permission had been granted for projects which didn’t always meet market demand. We need to adopt a new set of planning rules for those developing large-scale sites to ensure they are able to provide a diverse range of offerings that will suit the needs of the population. Meanwhile local planning authorities need to be producing Housing Delivery Action Plans (HDAPs) to try and get under the skin of where problems lie and resolve issues around permission hold ups.

While these long-term plans are afoot, local government can be finding short-term solutions to the challenges we face. Provision of affordable housing also needs to be available for workers who will be required to live near factories and offices. This means there must be enough attractive housing available in urban areas and it needs to be marketed appropriately. To support this, local authorities can start examining how they can make the best use of their land for future developments, and look at their policy approaches towards the density of development.

As we move towards the future, there’s little doubt that there’s room for improvement in housing strategy and delivery. But, by utilising all the tools at our disposal and working with local people and governments, we can build back communities that truly serve the people who live there.

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Written by

Steve Ottewell

Steve Ottewell

Director of Planning and Building Control, Capita Local Public Services

Steve is a chartered town planner with over 15 years’ experience across the private and public sector. Steve has worked for Capita for over 12 years in various technical and managerial positions, most recently taking on overall responsibility for all our planning teams within local government.

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