Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Pioneers, Pragmatists and Sceptics: Speculative Housebuilders and Brownfield Development in the Early Twenty-First Century

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Pioneers, Pragmatists and Sceptics: Speculative Housebuilders and Brownfield Development in the Early Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt

Despite the significant role that speculative housebuilders have in new housing provision, little attention has been paid to understanding the behavioural practices of speculative housebuilders and, in particular, evaluating their response to state-led policy initiatives seeking to influence their business practices. In addressing this gap, this paper uses the policy switch favouring brownfield development as a mechanism for examining how housebuilders respond to increasing state intervention in their business practices and, in doing so, explores the increasingly contested relationship between the state and the market in housing supply. It then reflects on what impacts this may have on housing delivery within the changing financial and policy context beyond 2010 and warns that public policy seeking to influence the location, type, quantity and quality of new housing needs to be supported by policies that encourage widespread behavioural change in the speculative housebuilding industry.

Keywords: speculative housebuilders, brownfield development, development process, state market relations, housing supply

The late twentieth century saw speculative1 housebuilders emerge as key delivery agents of new homes in the UK, earning them greater responsibility in shaping the way our towns and cities develop. While the growth of speculative housebuilding can be traced back to the pre-war 1930s, when government subsidies resulting from the 1923 Housing Act, alongside rising real incomes, population growth, low building costs and falling interest rates (Wellings, 2006) combined to stimulate private sector activity, it was the 1950s when speculative housebuilding rapidly accelerated. Annual proportional housebuilding completions by speculative housebuilders rose from 14% in 1949 to 54% in 1959 (DCLG, 2010). This growth was due in part to speculative developers participating in the rapidly expanding public sector housebuilding programme (the result of post-war housing shortages) as well as the removal of building controls and tax on development value in 1953 (Wellings, 2006). The growth of speculative housebuilding was significantly to affect the balance of housing tenure in the UK, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s, and has since resulted in increasing numbers of homeowners and a shiftfrom a previously dominant social rented-housing tenure to one currently dominated by owner occupation.

This proportional increase in private sector housing delivery is concurrent with a decrease in public2 sector contributions, with total public sector housing output falling from 87 per cent in 1951 to 23 per cent in 2010, with a record low of nine per cent delivered in 2003 (DCLG, 2010). During 2011, speculative housebuilders were responsible for delivering 76 per cent of all new homes built in the UK.3 This structural shiftin housing provision has placed speculative housebuilders as key delivery agents for both market and social housing in the UK, with the latter being facilitated primarily through the planning system via planning gain obligations.

The growing responsibility of speculative housebuilders in new home provision has been matched by an increasingly tighter regulatory agenda, driven forward by New Labour's ambitious Sustainable Communities Plan and associated urban renaissance agenda (see Urban Task Force, 1999; 2005) seeking more compact, mixed-use urban forms and a reduction in greenfield development (Williams and Dair, 2007). In particular, policies seeking to influence the location, type, quantity and quality of new housing have tightened (see Adams, 2004) and become more onerous for an industry used to moderate levels of state intervention in their business practices.

Despite the convincing nature of this tightening regulatory environment for speculative housebuilding in sustainable development terms (see Williams et al., 2000), little attention has been paid to understanding how housebuilders respond to policy shifts seeking to change their behaviour and, in particular, assessing whether the industry has the necessary capacity to deliver such changes. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.