Russell Quirk, the founder of hybrid estate agency Emoov and a former Tory councillor, believes the key to fixing the UK’s broken housing market is to create a publicly-owned housebuilder with the government and taxpayer as its shareholders.
Speaking at the Labour Party Conference on Sunday, Quirk said the government is failing to build its annual target of 300,000 homes by quite some margin and housing remains disproportionately expensive to the average homebuyer’s earnings.
Social and affordable housing has all but disappeared and there is a shift in living habits as 28% of the UK’s 27 million households are now single occupier – up 16% since 1997, he said.
Quirk argued that the planning process remains protracted and there remains a political unwillingness to unlock the less attractive parts of the green belt.
“But the biggest issue is the big housebuilders,” he claimed. “Their stranglehold on the supply of land and housing is keeping prices rising alongside their profits and the friction point of land banking will see this continue.”
Quirk’s solution is to provide Help to Build via the UK’s first publicly owned housing developer – dubbed UK Housing PLC.
There is already a Formal Asset Register to aid in identifying publicly owned land assets at a local and national level – of which the government currently controls 180,000.
This could be turned into a database which local authorities and government use and commit to a plan to build using those assets, Quirk suggested.
UK Housing PLC would be run as a private enterprise with the government and taxpayer as its shareholders but with an experienced C-suite from the private sector to run it properly and profitably.
The land supply would come through the plan to build database and the entity itself would decide what housing is needed in each area by type, tenure and geography over a five-year plan.
This would allow them to build, and profit, with the full developed land value repaid to the local authority in question on completion of the sale, Quirk said.
He claimed the risk is mitigated as the land is already owned by the government and it would also allow them to be in control of shared ownership delivery and the targets that need to be met.
“I know that this process is viable as during my time as the chairman of Brentwood Council’s Asset Committee I implemented it successfully on a local level. I identified the land, incepted development plans, gained the planning permission and tendered to sell,” Quirk said.
He added that Help to Build doesn’t replace the big housebuilders who “are free to peddle their wares as they see fit and do so currently”.
“But we cannot allow the issue of supply to rest solely with them and their engineered restriction of housing stock,” he argued. “We have the land, the resource and a model that facilitates the delivery while ensuring our councils don’t lose out financially. We have the solution, we just need to implement it.”
DMZ reckons Quirk’s plan is pretty out there, and probably won’t go down well with housebuilders, but if it sparks further discussion on how to solve the UK’s housing crisis it should be welcomed.