The UK Housing Crisis and Its Links to Town Planning

We’ve published articles about the Housing Crisis before, alongside other planning professionals, however when we see articles like the recent one by the BBC highlighting that rough sleeping is up more than a quarter in a year, we have to acknowledge that planning plays a fundamental part in tackling the issue.

Official figures from the Department of Levelling Up, Communities and Housing suggest that the number of people sleeping rough is 35% lower than the peak in 2017 – but 74% higher than in 2010.

During the pandemic, the government’s ‘Everyone In’ initiative provided more than 37,000 rough sleepers with a place to stay.  However, whilst the country has returned to a relatively ‘normal’ way of life this is no excuse to forget about homeless people as many were not found permanent homes.

The Current Situation

The UK housing crisis has been building for decades, with a shortage of affordable homes driving up prices and forcing many people into cramped, unsuitable accommodation. The crisis is particularly acute in London and the south-east of England, where demand for housing is highest and prices are at their most unaffordable.

The shortage of affordable housing is due to a number of factors, including a lack of suitable land for development, a planning system that is often seen as restrictive and outdated, and a lack of investment in social housing. As a result, many people are being priced out of the housing market and are unable to find suitable homes.

A recent article by The Guardian highlights that housebuilding in England is due to fall to its lowest level since the second world war, according to an analysis by the Home Builders Federation (HBF), owing to a range of government policies that threaten to dramatically slow development.

The HBF study shows that less than half of the government’s targets for the supply of homes annually will be achieved.  This will undoubtably add to the existing Housing Crisis.

The Planning System

We know that the UK is currently facing a severe housing crisis, with a shortage of homes, rising house prices, and increasing homelessness. This crisis is due to a complex web of factors, but one key contributing factor is the town planning system.

The UK’s planning system is designed amongst other things to manage the growth and development of towns and cities, but it has become slow, bureaucratic, and outdated. The result is that new homes are not being built fast enough to keep up with demand, and the prices of existing homes are skyrocketing.

One of the key issues with the UK’s planning system is the lengthy and complicated planning process. This process can take years to complete and requires extensive documentation, consultation, and negotiation.  As a result, it can be difficult and costly for developers to secure planning permission to build new homes, which reduces the supply of new homes and drives up prices.

In addition, many argue that the planning system is too restrictive and does not allow for enough new development, particularly in areas where demand for housing is highest.   This is evident in Zac Simons #planoraks Notes on reform: Whats the NPPF *for*? which scathingly criticises the proposed planning reform of the National Planning Policy Framework which he calls pathetic for a number of reasons, one of which relevant to this article is that the proposed changes provide ‘lots of clever ways of reducing the need to deliver homes – softening housing land supply targets from 5 years to 4 years in many cases, and in still further cases removing the target altogether, getting rid of buffers (which were originally there “to provide a realistic prospect of achieving the planned supply and to ensure choice and competition in the market for land”), allowing authorities “credit” for delivering against historic and outdated targets.’

The continued protection of the Green Belt, which I agree with to an extent, however I don’t believe all the current Green Belt areas should be sacrosanct, a national review should in my opinion be carried out.  This is also echoed in the #planoraks article.

The issue of Nutrient Neutrality introduced to more areas of the UK last year has caused Local Planning Authorities to pause or delay issuing planning approvals for new housing. The need for Biodiversity Net Gain in new developments will have an impact on viability, land take and density of new housing provided.  We’ve wrote a few articles on Biodiversity Net Gain: Practical Guide to Biodiversity Net Gain and Biodiversity Net Gain: UK Government Introduces New MeasuresAll of these obstacles add to the under delivery of housing, yes I understand the need to protect the Environment, however we’re just not getting the balance right.

There are also a number of other factors that contribute to the UK’s housing crisis. For example, there is a shortage of affordable land for development, and a lack of investment in infrastructure and transport links, which makes it harder for new homes to be built in some areas.


To tackle the UK’s housing crisis, it is essential to reform the town planning system. This could involve streamlining the planning process, reducing the number of bureaucratic hurdles, and improving the speed and efficiency of the decision-making process. It could also involve investing in affordable land and infrastructure, and further incentivising the development of new homes through tax breaks, grants, and other measures.

To aid the planning process, there needs to be more resources for Local Planning Authorities and a faster decision-making process, reducing the red tape and removing overly prescriptive barriers to development. Seems like a simple straightforward step in the right direction, so why is it not being pushed forward?

Whilst each new Planning Minister promises to radically reform the planning system, they are either not in post long enough or focus on one issue which is like using an Elastoplast on a deep wound which requires stitches and plastic surgery to heal.

To sum up this article I’ve taken some wise words from Zac Simons ‘Young, old, and everywhere in between. People at every stage of life – united by one thing. They need a home. And they’re relying on our flailing system to provide one for them’.  It’s important to remember that planning is about people and places. The housing crisis requires action, not just changes in wording.

Resources and links

If you would like to find out more about the UK housing crisis and the town planning system, there are a number of resources and links available online.  We’ve produced a few articles on the topic:

The National Housing Federation is a trade body for housing associations in England and has a wealth of information on the housing crisis and the need for more affordable housing.

The Royal Town Planning Institute is the professional body for town planners in the UK and has a range of resources on the planning system and the need for reform.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities is responsible for housing policy in England and has a number of resources on the government’s proposals for reforming the planning system.


The Housing Crisis and why we need more social housing is not a new issue, we’ve been writing about it for years and there are plenty other people banging the drum to highlight this growing issue, however what is actually being done to help people!

We’re in an Affordable Housing Emergency the planning system plays an integral role in delivering these affordable homes however there are clear barriers within the planning system, and changes are needed.

We were devastated to read the statistics, released in 2023, showing the number of people living in temporary accommodation in England has hit a 25-year high! Check out the BBC article if you haven’t seen it yet ➡️

Efforts to combat homelessness and alleviate the housing crisis in the UK must involve a combination of short-term and long-term solutions. This includes increased investment in affordable housing projects, initiatives to support low-income families, and greater focus on mental health and addiction support services. Additionally, there needs to be greater collaboration between government, local authorities, and nonprofit organisations to create a coordinated approach to tackle homelessness effectively.

Addressing the housing crisis and homelessness requires a collective effort and commitment from all stakeholders to ensure that no one is left behind and that the UK can create a brighter and more secure future for all.


Housing Crisis and planning system