Former minister John Penrose has said people should be able to add more storeys to their homes to tackle housing shortages and warned that the failure to build enough houses in the UK has led to “increased poverty”.
In an essay for the Conservative Bright Blue think-tank, shared exclusively with i, the former Northern Ireland minister warned that the country’s housing crisis had been “brewing for ages” and that large-scale changes are needed to “upend four or more decades of failure”.
The Weston-super-Mare MP, who also previously served as Constitution minister, called for a major overhaul of planning laws to allow people to add more storeys to their homes in a bid to increase supply without damaging green space.
He praised the so-called ‘Street Votes’ initiative that forms part of the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill currently progressing through Parliament, which allows local communities to vote on new developments in their area.
But he added that he worried that such initiatives, while a “welcome win”, would not be “enough” to tackle the growing issue of housing shortages.
The former minister said the issue was so “long-standing and deep-rooted” that Street Votes are not “big and scary enough to upend four or more decades of failure on its own”.
He said the country needed “Street Votes on steroids” and called for a major overhaul of the planning system, which he dubbed “Build Up, Not Out” to allow anyone in a certain area to add additional storeys to their houses “provided they follow their local council’s design code”.
This expansion of planning regulation, he claimed, would be “greener” as it would be using existing brownfield sites and would be more efficient as the new developments would draw on existing infrastructure, such as water and electricity mains.
“It would mean people struggling to own or rent would suddenly find they had got far more choices than before. We would go from a seller’s market to a new world where renters and buyers have the upper hand for the first time in decades,” he added.
Rural areas and heritage buildings would be exempt under his proposal, which he predicted could lead to a “townhouse revolution of four or five-storey buildings” that would “double the amount of home space available” in towns and cities.
Mr Penrose argued that the radical change was needed as “housing costs have been getting steadily harder to afford for years”.
He continued: “This does not just increase poverty by making the UK a less affordable place to live, particularly for lower-skilled and lower-paid families, but it also skewers opportunities by making working-age people less able to take any life chances that come their way”.
He added that the housing crisis “unfairly hits poorer children” living in rented accommodations who see their education and support networks disrupted “more often than their better-off classmates” as they are required to move more often.
“[The housing crisis] means that more households live in cramped and overcrowded homes, where the shared causes of poverty and poor health, like dampness and disease transmission, are more common.”
Mr Penrose went on to claim that the shortage of housing stock was making it “harder for young people to get on the housing ladder”, which had been “such a big and important part of the Conservative Party’s dream for so long”.
The government has been under growing pressure to build more houses after Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was accused of “ignoring the housing emergency” in his latest Budget.
Critics claimed the government had offered little support for private renters and people facing homelessness.
Several prospective first-time buyers told i they were disappointed that the Budget did not contain any new schemes aimed at making buying a house more affordable, as the Government’s long-running Help to Buy scheme officially comes to an end.