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At the housing break-out session at last month’s Bright Blue social reform conference, there was a strong consensus about the need to build more homes. It was agreed that the UK property market, particularly in London, is almost uniquely unaffordable compared to other major economies. Strikingly, in England, the ratio of house prices to gross annual earnings has increased from 3.5 in 1997 to 7.5 in 2015. This is even starker in London, where, in the borough of Westminster, the ratio has gone from 7 to 22 over the same period.

Yet despite agreeing on the diagnosis, there was vigorous debate within the room about the solutions. The panel consisted of Councillor Tony Devenish AM (Senior Planning Chairman, Westminster City Council), Councillor Harry Phibbs (Columnist, ConservativeHome), Alex Morton (Former Housing Adviser, No10 Policy Unit), and Mark Littlewood (Director, Institute of Economic Affairs).

The first approach advocated by some speakers, which was broadly “conservative”, accepted the importance of the planning system and the role of local residents in influencing planning decisions. Its proponents emphasised the need for more beautiful buildings that improve the appearance and character of the neighbourhood and therefore command greater support among local residents in favour of more development. This translated into a preference for dense, terraced housing over tower blocks.

The second approach, which was broadly “liberal”, was very sceptical of the planning system. These speakers argued that constraints on the appearance and location of new buildings reduce the overall supply of homes and pushed up prices. In response, they called for a liberalisation of the planning system, not just scrapping rules governing height, access to sunlight, and so on, but also loosening of protections around the Green Belt.

It was agreed that the Government could sell off more public land for development, particularly Transport for London (TfL) and (outside London) the Ministry of Defence (MOD). One panellist noted that TfL owns an area of land the size of Camden, some of which is surplus to requirements and could be made available for building.

There was a debate about the merit of supply-side measures to boost the construction industry, such as encouraging more small- and medium-sized firms to enter the market and investing more in construction skills. One panellist countered, however, that construction firms are institutionally risk-averse and will not invest because of a fear of a future economic downturn.

There was little discussion of social housing, homelessness, or the private rented sector. This was in large part a result of time limitations. But one panellist argued that conservatives should be unapologetic in prioritising homeownership over other forms of tenure, and pointed to the electoral failure of Theresa May’s 2017 manifesto pledge to build more social housing.

Housing is undoubtedly a key area for the Government’s social reform agenda to focus on. If the Conservative Party want to regain a majority at the next election and to win over young people, more housing must be built.

Sam Hall is a senior researcher at Bright Blue