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The Notebook: It may not be popular, but tackling the housing crisis requires helping landlords too

Where the City’s movers and shakers have their say. Today, David Smith, head of dispute litigation at law firm JMW Solicitors in London, takes the Notebook pen to talk on the kind of approach needed to tackle the housing crisis

Tackling the housing crisis needs multifaceted thinking 

Housing is one of the big-ticket items at the forthcoming election. Although it has not been mentioned to a large degree by any major party so far, all manifestos are likely to put forward some proposals about tackling the shortage of affordable housing, especially for young people in the South-East. However, most of the upcoming policies are likely to focus on one or two areas and will probably not recognise the multi-faceted and intractable nature of the problem.


The UK has been failing to build enough houses since the 1980s. Simply pointing to the need for more or fewer social housing, private landlords or new build housing alone is not the solution. Radical change is needed across all areas. This means substantial reform of the planning system, more social housing, more new-build housing and, much as it may annoy some, continued encouragement to private-sector landlords to keep housing people, at least in the short term.

No single solution will provide enough housing on its own, and in practice we need all types of housing supply to provide for a range of different needs. Effective housing provision is not about choosing one type of housing or one provider over another but about bringing together all participants behind a centralised vision.

That requires a solution which embraces not just planning, construction or landlord regulation but all of these along with public health, education and transport. More housing is important but there is little point in providing new housing unless it is of good quality and comes with necessary local services and connections to places of work, health, and education. Housing is a part of a wider social need and should not be seen in a silo.

Rural planning requires a major rethink 

Rural planning systems are no longer fit for a post-Covid work era. Despite more people returning to work an increasing number of workers do so largely or completely from home. Even office workers are in for far fewer days of the week.

Despite this, the current planning solutions are all about increasing densification. The only real difference has been around whether new development sites are urban or suburban in nature. This is a failure to recognise the true issues, which are about enabling people to live and work across the UK, rather than being encouraged, implicitly or explicitly, to gravitate towards cities for jobs, affordable housing, and services.

Really delivering on this requires a wholesale rethink of planning policy and a far greater focus on housing as part of a mix of services. Simply saying that rural communities need cheaper housing to attract young people without ensuring that they also have medical and paediatric services, jobs, and transport links is not going to solve any problems. Planning must become more sophisticated and better linked with services that are provided by both local and national governments if it is to deliver for rural communities.

Remembering Rob

Ex-Leeds Rhinos rugby league player Kevin Sinfield (R) embraces former teammate Rob Burrow after completing his Extra Mile Challenge at Emerald Headingley Stadium on November 23, 2021 in Leeds, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)
Ex-Leeds Rhinos rugby league player Kevin Sinfield (R) embraces former teammate Rob Burrow after completing his Extra Mile Challenge at Emerald Headingley Stadium on November 23, 2021 in Leeds, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

On Sunday night I was struck by the poignancy of Rob Burrow’ dreadfully sad passing. One of the many thoughts that came to mind in the last few years is the role that determination, leadership and teamwork can play in living a full life. This was exemplified by the relationship between Rob Burrow and former Leeds Rhinos teammate Kevin Sinfield. In a reminder of the bond that can be forged over years of friendship and comradeship, shortly before his friend passed, Mr Sinfield said: “supporting Rob Burrow is the reason why I’m on this earth”. One can only hope that we’re getting closer to a cure for MND.

What I’ve been reading

I recently read the updated version of Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence. This is a fabulous bringing together of studies about how people make decisions, which seems to be particularly appropriate now as the political parties battle to influence voters. The idea that our decisions are subtly influenced by the manner in which things are presented is not terribly new but the very clear examples given make me look at all of my decisions in a new light!