Housing Policy in the UK/Decent Homes for All: Planning's Evolving Role in Housing Provision/British Housebuilders: History and Analysis

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Housing Policy in the UK, David Mullins and Alan Murie, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, 324 pp., £21.99 (p/b)

Decent Homes for All: Planning's Evolving Role in Housing Provision, Nick Gallent and Mark Tewdwr-Jones, London and New York, Routledge, 2007, 300 pp., £27.99 (p/b)

British Housebuilders: History and Analysis, Fred Wellings, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, 2006, 290 pp., £49.99 (h/b)

For many years there were two key texts that anyone interested in the history and development of housing could refer to. One was Housing Policy: An Introduction, by Paul Balchin, and the other was Housing Policy and Practice by Peter Malpass and Alan Murie. They complemented each other, with Balchin's text dealing with housing via key topics and themes - housing investment, the housebuilding industry, private rented housing, etc. - and Malpass and Murie's approaching the subject from a historical perspective - the origins of housing policy, housing policy 1914-39, 1945-1979, etc. Between them, they provided most of the basic information required by practitioners and academics alike.

Housing Policy in the UK is a successor to Malpass and Murie's text. It is organised into three main sections. Part One deals with the history of housing policy, which is covered in chapters 2-4. Chapters 5-10 explore the main changes in each of the principal housing tenures. Chapters 11-14 deal with links between housing policy and related issues such as housing and social care and neighbourhood renewal in the light of recent policy reforms. Other authors contribute chapters on social housing finance, housing and social care, social exclusion and neighbourhood renewal, and private-sector housing renewal. There is less emphasis on the historical development of housing policy than in some earlier editions of its predecessor, and a greater focus on current and emerging themes. While concentrating on housing policy in England, most chapters also make references to similarities and differences in other parts of the UK.

Chapters 4, 12 and 13 are likely to be of greatest interest to town or spatial planners. Chapter 4 considers housing under Labour from 1997 to 2004. It highlights the continuity in policy from the 1980s and early 1990s with the emphasis on promoting home ownership, stock transfers, and an acceptance of public expenditure and taxation orthodoxy. But it also identifies new directions and innovations that impinge on housing policy and which were far less in evidence - or missing entirely - from earlier periods. These include the introduction of the minimum wage, working families tax credits, regionalisation, and the modernisation of public services.

Chapter 12 deals with social exclusion and neighbourhood renewal. It considers the impact of damp housing, overcrowding, homelessness and fuel poverty on different social groups, as well as assessing the relationships between housing tenure and social exclusion. It describes some of the recent responses to social exclusion under New Labour, including New Deal for Communities, neighbourhood management, local strategic partnerships, the sustainable communities plan, and the housing market renewal pathfinders initiative, and concludes that policy makers need to recognise the role of housing in social exclusion, to avoid confusing neighbourhood management with housing management, and to see the importance of different spatial dimensions of social exclusion - subregional, regional and national.

Chapter 13 rehearses recent changes to private-sector housing renewal, the effects of the 2002 regulatory reform order, measures to tackle privately rented accommodation (including housing in multiple occupation - HMOs), and approaches to dealing with low demand (including Housing Market Renewal Areas - HMRAs). It argues that HMRAs have brought subsidy and support to areas of low housing demand, but have done little to deal with the many thousands of dwellings in poor condition elsewhere: 'what is absent is a coherent policy that sets out the respective responsibilities of the state and private owners in relation to housing conditions'. …