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New Homes

Does the country need the three million new homes we are told must be built by 2020? Barbara Panvel remains unconvinced.

A former planning officer said recently at a meeting “I’d like to know exactly who these people in need of housing are”.

Government promises transparency and localised decision-making, but there a few signs of this happening. Unless we know in each area how many single people, couples, small families and large families have no homes, politicians and public alike are in the dark.

Simon Rubinsohn, chief economist at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors [RICS], said there had been huge overdevelopment in parts of the country. "There are certain areas of supply which are now lying unwanted on the shelf. There are a lot of unwanted properties on the market . . . there is definitely an overhang," he said.

Alistair Stewart, housebuilding analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort, said the idea that Britain was undersupplied with housing was "one of the biggest chestnuts of our times". "There is an undersupply of houses in London and the south-east, but housebuilders have spent most of the last five years building apartments outside that region," he said. "There are empty vistas of apartments in just about every city centre."

Birmingham tops a list compiled by the property information website that ranks locations by falling values. The average value of new-build city centre flats is £153,500 – down 17.3% over the year. Could some of these empty flats be used to house the singles and couples? Would it be possible for those on the first two floors to be made into maisonettes for families?

Official figures indicate there are 675,000 empty homes in England, of which 288,000 have been empty for more than six months (DCLG, 2007). Birmingham has over 11,000 privately owned empty homes according to government figures – the largest number of empty properties in the country. Despite the demand for affordable housing, 1,100 of these homes have been empty for over five years.

With its ambitious carbon reduction targets, Birmingham Council should be interested in research by the Empty Homes Agency in March that new construction emits more than four-and-a-half times as much CO2 per square metre as the comprehensive refurbishment of an existing home.

The Empty Homes Agency concludes that over 50 years, the combined CO2 emissions from construction/refurbishment and daily use show existing homes can be just as green – if not greener – than new ones, but with the benefit of much lower embodied CO2.

Like the Green New Deal [New Economics Foundation] they say that the 288,000 long-term empty homes in England should be re-used and upgraded to higher energy efficiency standards as part of the Government’s plans for increasing the housing supply.



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