AoU chair responds to Housing White Paper

New Academy of Urbanism chair David Rudlin responds to the government’s housing white paper

The Academy of Urbanism welcomes the broad thrust of the housing white paper. The way we develop new homes has a huge effect on the quality of our towns and cities and the failure to build enough homes in recent years and the poor quality of much of what has been built has undermined the quality of urban areas and turned the public against the very idea of development. The initiatives to broaden the number of housing providers including more rented housing, direct development by councils, encouragement for smaller builders and self-build and custom-build is all very encouraging. We need more homes and more varied homes encouraging greater innovation and providing greater choice and so if the white paper achieves that then it will be positive.

The message on the greenbelt is more complicated. The claim that only 13% of England is greenbelt and therefore there is plenty of space elsewhere is disingenuous. The Academy of Urbanism agrees that the first priority for new housing should be within existing towns and cities and supports measures to bring forward brownfield development and the more intensive use of existing urban areas. However, there are many places where there simply isn’t the space to build the homes we need within the urban area. This includes places like Oxford and Cambridge but is also the case in London and the larger cities. The answer to the growth of these places is not to export their new housing to distant green fields beyond the green belt. These cities should be allowed to build in sustainable locations that can be connected to public transport and existing infrastructure – most of which will be in the greenbelt.

This is not an argument against the greenbelt; it has served us well for 60 years and must be retained and strengthened. However, things are generally stronger when they are allowed to stretch and flex rather than being pulled tight to the point where they burst. We need to be able to allow growing cities to plan properly for their expansion by adjusting their greenbelts. The government could never say this, of course. But the provisions in the white paper for a sequential approach to identifying housing land and the acceptance that elected mayors and planning authorities may change greenbelt boundaries (and take the flak for doing so) may mean that this is exactly what is written between the lines of the white paper.


David Rudlin takes over as chair of The Academy of Urbanism

Urbanist and planner David Rudlin has from February taken over as chair of The Academy of Urbanism, becoming the organisation’s fourth figurehead. Rudlin will focus the organisation on promoting ordinary urbanism and making organisation more inclusive.

About The Academy of Urbanism

The Academy of Urbanism brings together thinkers and practitioners involved in the social, cultural, economic, political and physical development of our villages, towns and cities across the UK and Ireland.

The Academy was formed to extend urban discourse beyond built environment professionals, and to create an autonomous, politically independent and self-funded learned voice.

We aim to recognise, promote and learn from great places. For more information about the Academy, please contact Stephen Gallagher on 020 7251 8777 or visit:

Featured image: Liverpool by Andrew (via Flickr)

There are 2 comments

  1. Prof Dr John Montgomery

    My understanding is that the supply gap is made up 15 years or more of not building enough housing, demand pressure from immigration and household formation rates, and the projection forward of household formation rates until 2030. The amount of additional housing units required varies around the 3 million mark. Over 10 years 2020-2030 the annual completion rate would need to be 300,000.

    This would address the number of new units, mopping up the past undershoot and providing for future new households. I doubt it would have any affect on houses prices. This is because the existing stock is held and priced in by individuals and some larger owners. House builders tend, quite sensibly from their point of view, to control the rate at which they bring land forward for development. These two facts alone mean that there would be only a very marginal fall in average house prices, if any.

    If we were to hope that increasing the supply of new housing would cause general house prices to fall or even plateau, then I rather the number of houses required in the next 13 years would be not 3 million but 6 million.

    As for the Green Belt, quite a lot of it is not especially green and might be described as rural brown land. Such sites, especially on the edges of established towns and villages could be developed for housing but also heavily landscaped and screened.

    The Garden Cities approach could be extended to include town expansions similar to the late 1950s and early 1960s. As well as the cities, it will be to market and working towns that many people will gravitate. Living in cities suits many people, especially young professionals, but this does not hold true over the cycle of people’s lives. Think of the same young professionals ten years down the line looking to bring up children, or retirees opting for town or village life.

    Where should we build? In the cities and in larger towns, in market towns and in the country, in wholly new settlements and in expanded towns. My personal suggestion is to come up with a number to overcome the supply gap, double it and get on with the job.

    Affordable homes? I rather think this is an illusion. Forcing developers to add 10% of slightly cheaper stock simply puts pressure on densities and increases the cost of supplying units overall. And if the answer is to fund local authorities to build again, then we might as just pay the developers to do the building.

    Unless we can reverse the supply gap, the problem of affordability will not be addressed in any meaningful way. Build lots, build quickly, build now.

  2. Carol Somper

    There are more ways to define affordability than simply purchase price or rental terms. Affordability is perhaps more importantly about how much new homes would cost to run over their lifetime. Social and low cost homes for those currently living in fuel poverty need to be better designed and built to higher standards of thermal efficiency, preferably linked to decentralised renewable energy systems. This ‘model’ is not one that the volume home-builders want to buy into. We also need different financial models for renting and ownership so that young professionals and families can afford to live where they need to work. We also need to be much more creative in designing places that people want to live in at any stage of their lifetime; we need more inclusive urban communities. Rural areas are not just for larger, older families and retirees; we need to avoid promulgating rural fuel poverty and ghettos of elderly affluence. Young professionals need more choice in the type of homes they can afford in city suburbs and central areas. Government needs to back the White Paper with joined-up policies on social inclusion and sustainable energy.

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