With the Starter Home initiative being pushed by government, Pete Halsall, the visionary sustainable developer who runs the Good Homes Alliance, asks if low-cost first-time buyer homes could be destined to become the slums of the future?
The Conservatives have arguably a better record in stimulating new housing development given that they would claim to have a better understanding of the market. Harold Macmillan’s 300,000 new homes per annum target was met over a number of years and some would say that the reputation he gained from it subsequently propelled him into Downing Street. However, at what price? We have all witnessed the regular demolition jobs on many of the dreadfully and almost jerry built homes that were created to meet the target. One could say the housing built saw all rush and not a lot of good, clear thinking.
Do the Conservatives really understand quality and place making? I would say that there is a fundamental naivety in thinking that the market will deliver quality when there really is not a functioning free and competitive market in new homes.
So, what of the new Starter Homes initiative? Are these destined to become slums of the future because they will be badly designed and cheaply built? Sadly, based on past experiences, it would seem to be between possible and probable that many of them would be so. The fear is that the new starter homes could be too small, inadequately illuminated with natural light and built quite possibly with lower standard products and systems.
A better initiative, based on a more grounded and intelligent perspective on the housing market, would be to require the homebuilders to reserve properly serviced and dedicated sites where firsttime buyers can commission custom build or even self-build their own homes. What could be more satisfying, more stretching and foster an entrepreneurial spirit more than building your own home? A host of construction industry players eager to carve out a market niche could come flocking into the market with snazzy and sustainable building products and systems. Competitive and free market pressures would drive huge homebuyer benefits. The government could even help with suitably structured loan guarantees.
So what could be the overall result? Possibly a new generation of considerably better built new homes, than the dreary new bulk standard homes of today, demonstrating better quality and better designed homes that are likely to be sought after by future generations.