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Labour government: UK housing crisis is missing its ‘big bang’ moment

The power of optimism and missionary zeal should not be underestimated, but they are being asked to do a big job in the case of Britain’s under-supplied housing market. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rachel Reeves told reporters this week to “have no doubt” that Labour will get the country building again, reaffirming an annual target of 300,000 homes that the Conservatives have eluded for years. The incoming government cannot be blamed for its ambition; the question is whether reality can match the rhetoric.

The short-term outlook is not good. Net additional dwellings (the key metric for housing supply, which includes conversions and demolitions as well as new builds) are forecast to fall sharply this year, having already exceeded the previous government’s target by more than 20% in the 12 months to 5 April. Most indicators point in the wrong direction. Both housing starts and completions weakened in the last financial year, and planning approvals fell in the first quarter to their lowest level in more than eight years. There is a severe shortage of local authority planning officers (one reason applications are not moving at a faster pace) and the construction workforce is shrinking.