Local planning authorities (LPAs) deal with more than just housing zone changes. New homes are one component of environmental, economic and life-quality considerations.
It’s a classic chicken-and-egg question. What comes first, a resident population of workers for companies looking to establish workplaces in a particular locale – or is it the other way around, when employers are the draw to workers who move to be near them?
It happens in both ways, of course. But central to both perspectives is the intrinsic relationship between populations and workplaces. Not only do employers need people with certain skill sets, but they also require a large-enough population from which to draw appropriate workers. But over time, people will relocate to areas where the jobs are most plentiful.
Government policy recognises this. The Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 addressed the matter of regeneration and development as a means of economic stimulus in select regions. Among the legislation’s priorities are to provide or improve upon housing as well as social and recreational facilities “for the purpose of encouraging people to live or work in the area,” as described in the act.
Many other factors affect where both workplaces and homes are built, of course. And as the UK struggles to revive its economy while simultaneously addressing a housing shortage, all such factors form a constellation. These factors run the gamut from the general state of the economy (local and global), currency strength, government interventions and interest rates.
Note that housing – the construction phase of new homes in particular – is often discussed as a short-term economic stimulus. We tend to discuss the economic value of homes purely in the activity around construction and furnishing a home. Less is said about the broader economic benefits, such as providing residences for workers who are essential to local employers as well as their role as consumers of products and services in the area.
Local planning authorities (LPAs), newly empowered with the Localism Act, are at the core of land use designation decisions. Much is said about the environmental sustainability goals of LPAs, which are, of course, of great importance. Some expect that a focus on the preservation of greenbelt and agricultural lands might then be the ultimate priority, but in fact the National Planning Policy Framework as set forth in 2005 allows that local economics are part of sustainability as well. Preceding this, the Brundtland Commission said back in 1987, “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Planninghelp.org.uk, which champions planning for rural areas, translates this into at least three directives:
• The economics of planning – Ensure that “sufficient land of the right type, and in the right places, is available to allow businesses to set up and grow, and to be supported by infrastructure such as roads and railways.”
• The social role of planning – Housing, leisure, recreation, retail and schools make for strong, vibrant and healthy communities.
• The environment’s role – Protection and enhancement of landscapes and wildlife, as well as historic and archaeological structures, are essential to clean water, energy and mineral access, as well as providing cultural and tourism assets.
So while new home construction is an important short-term stimulus to local economies, it really is part of a matrix of considerations and, well planned, part of the broad sustainability of a region as well.
As the UK struggles with a shortage of housing, each of these considerations should help guide a renewed building phase that should materialise in the coming months and years. Already, investors from the UK, the United States and elsewhere are financing projects that will add to the country’s housing inventory.
With such an obvious degree of pent-up demand, strategic land investors and homebuilders are identifying good opportunities. Individual investors investigating alternative investments must, of course, examine the risk profile of development in light of all these factors, as well as take counsel from an independent financial advisor on their overall portfolio allocation.
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