British housing is the coldest, smallest, and least affordable in Europe for a simple reason: we have consistently failed to build enough houses. For almost 70 years, Britain has consistently built fewer homes per person than almost every other Western European country.

Britain’s housing shortage has crushed the dream of home-ownership. In 1991, 67% of 25-34 year olds owned their own home. Today, less than 40% do. Overall, controlled for population age, homeownership peaked in 1991 and has been falling ever since. Saving enough money for a deposit now takes the average couple thirteen years. In London, it would take them 30 years. Too many people are forced out of the place they grew up because they aren’t able to afford a home on a normal wage. Even if they can piece together enough money for a deposit, the massive mortgage they have to take out leaves them extremely vulnerable to interest rate hikes, something families up and down the country know all too well right now.

Unaffordable housing makes our economy weaker too. While housing is expensive across the UK, it is most unaffordable in the places with the best job opportunities. In York, Cambridge, and Edinburgh, homes now cost on average between 8 and 12.5 times local wages. To access the jobs they’re best suited to, workers have to choose between long commutes or expensive, cramped housing.

Watling and Breach 2023 based on Holmes 2004

Our national failure to build enough homes means we are reliant on homes built more than a century ago. In fact, Britain’s housing stock is one of the world’s oldest. As old homes tend to be cold homes, not only do Brits spend more per person on housing than the rest of Europe, they end up paying a bigger gas bill too. This is bad news for bill payers and bad news for the planet.

The root cause of Britain’s housing shortage is our planning system, which gives local authorities complete power to say ‘no’ to new homes, but little reason to say ‘yes’ to them, meaning they only plan for the minimal number they are required to.

Even when land is set aside in a local plan, proposals to build new homes on it are frequently refused on spurious and, often self-contradicting, grounds. It takes longer and costs more to get planning permission than ever before. Small builders that employ local people and are rooted in the community have seen the real costs for planning applications increase by five times over the past 30 years. Our uncertain, slow, and expensive planning system now takes more than a year to give a yes/no answer when used to take just three months.

Yet, that only scratches the surface of the problem. The deeper issue is that not enough land is put forward for development in local plans at all. In the years before WW2, Britain grew its housing stock at around 2 per cent per year. But after WW2, the planning system changed into the one we have to this day and housing building rates dropped by more than a third. The consequence is a massive backlog of 4.3 million homes and an ever-worsening housing crisis.

It doesn’t have to be this way

Britain Remade has a plan to end the housing shortage.

More people living near fast transport connections to good jobs would be good for the economy and good for the environment. Yet in Britain’s most expensive cities housing near train stations and busy bus routes is built at incredibly low densities.

Our post-war estates provided better quality housing to people in need, but they were not built to last. Too many social tenants are stuck in properties that are cold, damp, and small.

Britain is home to some of the world’s best universities, making breakthroughs in AI and medicine. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge, in particular, can help Britain become a science superpower, but there’s a problem. Growth is limited by unaffordable housing and a lack of lab space for innovative startups.

Our plan will end Britain’s housing shortage by: getting more new warm homes built in the places people want to live, near fast transport connections to good jobs; renewing our post-war council housing estates to give existing residents larger, warmer safer homes; and building beautiful new urban extensions modelled on Edinburgh New Town to make the most of our world-beating universities.