How do we solve the housing crisis?

Battle of Ideas festival 2022, Sunday 16 October, Church House, London


The vision of a property-owning democracy has fallen flat as the prospect of owning a home increasingly becomes a pipe dream for many.

Millennials needing homes with gardens are cramped within shared flats. Those already on the property ladder struggle with historically high ratios of mortgage payments to incomes. After the Grenfell Tower fire, many leaseholders face escalating costs for cladding and fire-safety measures, as well as impossible terms to re-mortgage. On top of all that, those trying to rent face long waits for social housing or rocketing rents in the private sector. Some universities are withdrawing places due to lack of student accommodation, while some seeking resettlement from Ukraine or Hong Kong are confined to churches or boats.

The moral imperative to build is clear. But where and how can we build the homes that we need?

There is widespread frustration at the stop-start policies of those in charge. Initially spooked by the prospect of permanently alienating younger voters, the government’s planning reform has itself been ditched lest greenbelt development antagonises NIMBYist ‘blue wall’ voters. Tory leadership hopeful Liz Truss sees the problem as one of quotas and over-regulation and promises to remove housebuilding targets – not surprisingly viewed by many as a retreat from a commitment to build.

Does this crisis require a renewed commitment to mass housebuilding? Or do past problems of building at scale suggest it is right that developers work within new parameters? With postwar modernising zeal to urban transformation long since gone, what role should the state have today in building our way out of the crisis? Given the UK has twice as much land tied up in protected greenbelt compared to that already developed, is it time to use it to build new towns or even entire new cities? How can ambitious but high-quality development be realised amidst environmental/energy targets, labour shortages, planning restrictions and restraints on innovation?


Simon Cooke
urbanist; former regeneration portfolio holder and leader of the Conservative group, Bradford City Council

Ike Ijeh
writer; architect; head of housing, architecture and urban space, Policy Exchange; founder, London Architecture Walks

Rabina Khan
writer and commentator; former councillor and special advisor; author, My Hair Is Pink Under This Veil

Austin Williams
senior lecturer, Dept of Architecture, Kingston University, London; honorary research fellow, XJTLU, Suzhou, China; author, China’s Urban Revolution: understanding Chinese eco-cities

Charlie Winstanley
North West co-ordinator, Enough is Enough; political advisor to the Mayor of Salford