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As successive governments fail to build enough homes for the nation, George Clarke looks beyond the headlines at a way forward.

There is a massive housing crisis in Britain. The government themselves have admitted that the system is broken. This has occurred for so many reasons.

In effect the state now controls the planning system (they didn’t before 1947) and because everyone now has the right to object to home developments, they do. Nimbyism is rife.

We want more affordable homes to be built for our kids but ‘not in our backyard!’

The planning system is over complicated with too many restrictions and the entire process takes far too long.

Land is now sold and traded as a commodity rather than for the provision of housing and even when planning is granted some investors will sit on the land to wait for the market to rise further and make more money.

We literally don’t have the number of skilled trades to build the number and quality of homes we need

George Clarke George Clarke Architect, writer and TV presenter

Perfect property storm

When we do build homes they are amazing investments for landlords to rent out and make lots of money on and there have been very lucrative tax incentives for overseas buyers to invest in property.

Combine all of this with a risky boom and bust industry and a nation who’s chronically high housing demand is only drip-fed through a very low level of supply and you have a massive problem; because when demand is way more than supply, the price of each individual house goes through the roof.

Homes become unaffordable and the banks won’t lend to those who require more than 5 times their annual salary.

We have basically created the most horrendous property storm. In fact, if in 1947 the UK set out to create the ‘perfect property storm’ then we have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. It is a disaster.

Injecting quality

So, the system needs to change and the quality of what we build needs to change too.

Most of the ‘noddy box’ houses we are building across our green land are awful. The design and build quality just isn’t good enough.

Because lands prices are so high, the big house builders are building the lowest quality products in order to make their profit.

And because the country has now woken up to the housing shortage there is now a massive rush to build as many homes as possible to meet government’s unrealistic targets to the point where some developers are cutting corners on site and the quality of our homes is being severely compromised.

Oh, and add in the fact that there is a massive skills shortage in the construction industry at the moment - we literally don’t have the number of skilled trades to build the number and quality of homes we need.

How depressing is this? How on earth did we allow our housing system to fall into such an awful state?

It is time for change. Massive change. Systematic change of the highest level. Change that will transform the house building industry and the quality of homes that we build for generations to come.

George Clarke George Clarke Architect, writer and TV presenter

Inspiring the young

In 2017 I launched a new educational charity called MOBIE (The Ministry of Building Innovation + Education) to inspire young people to change the British home building industry.

I think the young people of today should be empowered to create the affordable homes they want to live in. Surely it is up to them to create the homes of the future.

What do they want?

Ask any young kid what type of home they want to live in and what they often describe is so exciting. They want homes that:

  • Are innovative and are ecological

  • Contribute to the environment rather than destroy it

  • Harness heat and power from the air, the sun and the sea

  • Not only have a zero carbon footprint but that could, through innovative materials and technology, actually give back to the environment

  • Are exciting and beautiful to live in

  • Are built to the highest possible standard using clean and efficient ways of manufacturing rather than the dirty, wet, cold, messy and inefficient ways of constructing homes that we use today

  • Make us smile and make us happy to be living in them

Is it really too much to ask?

Of course they need to be affordable homes too, which means we need to ‘think different’ about what we build, how we build and at what size of homes we build. Small can be really beautiful.

Technology and solutions

The technology and the innovation needed on particular types of products is starting to happen. Air source heat pumps from companies like Mitsubishi Electric literally take heat out of the air that surrounds us (even in cold climates it works!) and uses that heat to provide hot water and comfort to our homes.

We can also harness heat from the ground with ground source heat pumps.

Our roof tiles can all be solar collectors for electricity, heating and hot water.

Why can’t every one of our homes be a mini power station generating our own energy rather than relying on the national grid or on our depleting gas supplies.

As we develop more sophisticated homes using more intelligent building products and off-grid appliances then surely the technology will become more commonplace and more affordable.

Systematic and revolutionary change

My hope and dream is that MOBIE becomes the ‘home of all home innovation’ and that by inspiring and educating our young, passionate and amazing kids to think differently and to provide a way that allows them to define what homes they want to live in in the 21st century, then systematic and revolutionary change will happen.

It won’t be long before the young kids of Britain refuse to accept the banal, overpriced and ecologically damaging homes we are building today.

George Clarke is an architect, writer, lecturer and TV presenter, a founder of TV production company Amazing Productions, and creative director of George Clarke + Partners.