Housing Politics in the United Kingdom: Power, Planning and Protest

By Sturzaker, John | The Town Planning Review, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Housing Politics in the United Kingdom: Power, Planning and Protest


Sturzaker, John, The Town Planning Review


Housing Politics in the United Kingdom: Power, Planning and Protest, Brian Lund, Bristol, Policy Press, 2016,368pp., ?24.99, ISKN: 978Ц4732 7080

This book is a companion to the forthcoming third edition of the author's Understanding Housing Policy, 'which adopts a more conventional approach' (vi) to the topic. This volume instead focuses on the process of developing policy for dealing with housing in the UK, a problem the author categorises as 'wicked'.

The book explores a number of themes including those in the title, and broader issues such as capitalism and globalisation. Chapter 1 presents a short review of these themes, along with those of public-choice theory, social constructivism and the 'new' institutionalism, which form the author's analytical core, predicated on the notion that the role of actors in the UK's housing system has been underexplored. Following Chapter 1, the remaining chapters 'chart political encounters with change determinants, recording how the "actors" in the political process have responded to the problems generated by social and economic transformations and, in turn, shaped their forms' (31). Chapters 2-9 use this framework to discuss, in a chronological way, land politics (Chapter 2), urban renewal (Chapter 3), the changing attitude to various forms of tenure (Chapters 4-7), and homelessness (Chapter 8). The emphasis overall is on England, with the situations in the other nations of the UK given specific focus in Chapter 9.

The book has two main strengths - the first is that it very up to date, covering the period up to Theresa May becoming prime minister in July 2016. The second is that, whilst much of the historical analysis will not be new to students of housing in the UK, the focus on actors, power and politics is welcome. In contrast, despite the book's name there is relatively little on planning itself.

Early on in the text the author notes that Engels 'was scathing in his condemnation of the state's inability to respond to the "housing question"' (6). The evidence presented in this book suggests that this inability perseveres today - in 1979, house prices were 2.8 times average earnings, and the proportion of income spent on housing was 8 per cent. By 2013, the latter figure was 16 per cent, with private rental costs as high as 27 per cent, and house prices six times average earnings.

The root cause of the failure to address this type of problem is, according to the author, the entrenched position of vested interests within the systems of housing finance and development. …

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