New homes: What's happened to the government's housebuilding target?

By Reality Check team
BBC News

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Builders taking measurements in a new houseImage source, Getty Images

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove appeared to back away from the government's house-building target, in an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"We're going to do everything we can [to meet the target] - but it's no kind of success simply to hit a target if the homes are shoddy, in the wrong place, don't have the infrastructure required and are not contributing to beautiful communities," he said.

"Arithmetic is important but so is beauty."

What is the government's target?

The target, set out in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, is for "300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s".

The figure, which is for England, was unveiled by then Chancellor Philip Hammond in November 2017.

"Experts agree that 300,000 new homes a year would start to make inroads on the affordability of housing," he told BBC News.

How close has the government come?

In 2019-20 there were 242,700 net additional dwellings, which fell to 216,490 in 2020-21, partly due to the pandemic.

Net additional dwellings is the headline figure for housebuilding, including houses being converted to flats or commercial buildings switching to domestic use, as well as new builds. It also factors in demolished houses.

"The government will miss their 300,000-homes-a-year manifesto pledge by a country mile," former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told MPs on Tuesday.

He predicted that the figure for 2019-20 would be "the high watermark of the number of homes built in this country for several years to come".

But the prime minister's official spokesman said the government was still committed to the 300,000 target, which was "central" to its "levelling-up" ambitions.

How many homes were being built previously?

On average, almost 250,000 homes were built in England in each year of the 1970s.

But there was also a great deal of demolition, largely due to slum clearance, which made the overall figure just under 200,000 a year.

The 1990s saw many fewer homes built but also fewer demolitions, making the overall average about 150,000 a year.

This annual figure then rose until the 2007-08 financial crisis, recovering in the mid-2010s.

Are new homes affordable?

Even 300,000 homes a year would make no difference if they were the wrong sort of properties, according to housing charity Shelter.

"There is no point in building 300,000 homes a year if the vast majority are overpriced flats and houses that people on average or lower incomes can't afford," a representative said.

"The government must make sure any target it sets will deliver the genuinely affordable social homes this country needs."

Image source, Getty Images

The government's 2020 Social Housing White Paper renewed its affordable-homes programme for 2021-26.

This £11.5bn programme is supposed to deliver up to 180,000 new homes over that period, half with discounted rent and half for affordable ownership.

The government's figures on affordable-housing supply show 52,100 affordable homes were completed in England in 2020-21, down 12% on the previous year.

These homes are classified as having:

  • affordable rent - properties rented by local authorities or other providers at up to 80% of local market rent
  • London affordable rent - a separate classification, offered by the Greater London Authority, also capped at 80%
  • social rent - affordable housing usually owned by local authorities and housing associations with rents set by a national rent formula
  • intermediate rent - rent capped at 80% for key workers, sometimes as part of a scheme to help save up to buy a home
  • shared ownership - purchaser buys between 25% and 75% of a home and pays rent on the remaining share
  • affordable home ownership - homes offered at no more than 80% of local market values

How much have prices risen?

When Mr Hammond announced the 300,000-a-year target, the UK average house price was £215,113, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The most recent figures, for February 2022, show an average price of £276,755, an increase of 29% and more than 10 times the average wage.

For comparison, over the same period, the consumer price index (CPI) measure of inflation has risen by 11%.