There is a political consensus that the UK needs more homes. While this is a national issue, it is most acute in Britain’s most successful cities. The under-supply of homes has been a long-term and systematic problem for the UK. In order to address it and deliver homes in the places that need them most, strong political leadership combined with the right technical solutions are vital.

There is sufficient land that could provide homes in the areas where people want to live, but local and national decision-makers must be bold in identifying it based on the merits of individual sites, rather than based on long standing and often arbitrary designations. Within Britain’s most successful and least affordable cities, if every brownfield site was developed to its full capacity – which is highly unlikely – there is capacity for 425,000 extra homes. This will be a major contribution to homes in some cities, and there are tangible benefits of dense building on brownfield sites not least in supporting services. But even this figure falls a third short of the minimum 685,000 homes these cities need over the next ten years, meaning that building on existing brownfield sites will not be enough.

Cities must start to consider land on its merits, including potential sites that are close to railway stations but that are designated as green belt land. This land could accommodate an extra 1.4 million homes on just 5.2 per cent of their total green belt. Developing half of these suburban sites would meet this minimum ten year target. While some will not be suitable, there will be many areas which are of poor quality that could be developed.

National and local politicians need to set a clear agenda – none of the three options laid out can be taken off the table, and land in and around successful cities should be evaluated on its merits not its previous designation. To then ensure homes are delivered on this land, city decision-makers can mix and match the responses and interventions set out in this paper.

These include:

  • Considering all available land on its merits – cities must evaluate what land is best used for housing and land that should be protected for its social value, regardless of past planning designations. This takes local and national leadership.
  • Working in partnerships – both with neighbouring authorities and with national partners. Where the relationships are not effective, international examples show the potential of incentivising authorities to work towards meeting housing needs.
  • Benefitting the local community – cities whose communities are most accepting of housing are those who share the benefits. This can include, for example, restoring poorly used land or investing in improvements in local infrastructure and services.
  • Being proactive – identifying areas with the potential for housing and investing to ensure that sites are viable. This can be in land assembly deals or investing in infrastructure to make these sites viable. Alternatively cities can use their land or investment to make homes for underserved communities viable where the market won’t deliver.