Britain adapts housing algorithm after backlash


Construction cranes are seen on a residential building project behind homes in west London. Britain faces an acute and nationwide shortage of affordable homes, affecting city and countryside alike, and the decision to “update” the government algorithm follows protests by lawmakers from within the ruling Conservative party. — Reuters

LONDON: Britain said on Dec 16 it would alter the algorithm it uses to select sites for new homes after critics said the old formula risked a building boom in the rural south at the expense of the industrial north.

Britain faces an acute and nationwide shortage of affordable homes, affecting city and countryside alike, and the decision to “update” the government algorithm follows protests by lawmakers from within the ruling Conservative party.

In its place, the housing ministry said brownfield sites and urban areas would now be prioritised under a revised mathematical formula devised to help meet a target of building 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s.

“This government wants to build more homes as a matter of social justice, for intergenerational fairness and to create jobs for working people,” Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said in a statement.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated and magnified patterns that already existed, creating a generational opportunity for the repurposing of offices and retail as housing and for urban renewal.”

Conservatives had said the old formula risked concreting over rural areas while failing to redress regional inequalities, with less money going to poorer northern regions.

On Wednesday, the government said it would revise its rules on funding to the regions to ensure a better spread of builds.

Politics and policy

It is not the first change to the new-build policy.

In August, government floated plans to include affordability as a site criterion, sparking fears of an overbuild in high-cost areas, such as London, as well as the rural Conservative south.

The revised plan will focus on England’s 20 big cities, aiming to make the most of vacant buildings and underused land to protect green spaces, the housing ministry said.

The pandemic has emptied offices, commercial sites and car parks and many could remain vacant as companies increasingly switch to remote working or flexible arrangements.

The re-think was welcomed by environmental groups, with the Countryside Charity (CPRE) saying that building on previously developed land was a “win-win scenario for people and nature”.

Yet, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) representing planning workers, said there were “fundamental flaws with relying on a spreadsheet to decide housing numbers”.

“Government decisions on matters such as infrastructure will inevitably influence housing delivery in different places and it is impossible to see how any formula could take this into account,” RTPI Head of Policy Richard Blyth said in a statement. – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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