House building in England

Last updated: 06 Jan 2017

Housing is devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so the UK government is only responsible for housing in England.

143,000 homes were completed in England in 2015. This is more than in recent years, but still below the 2007 pre-recession peak of 178,000.

Taking a long view, house building has been decreasing since the 1960s. The early years of this decade saw house building at its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s.

How else can we crunch the numbers?

There are other ways to look at house building. We also have figures for housing starts, for example.

In 2015, work began on 146,000 homes in England. This has been increasing since 2012, but is still much lower than the peak of 184,000 in 2007.

Sometimes people use figures for across the United Kingdom instead of just England. 171,000 homes were completed in 2015, and 177,000 started.

The various ways of mixing and matching the figures and their geographical coverage can make it tricky to compare the records of different governments.

There’s also the matter of when exactly you pick your starting point. Recent elections and changes of government have taken place in May of a given year, so claims about a particular government’s record might measure from the start of that calendar year, the start of that financial year, or the start of the following year.

Similarly, houses completed early in the life of one government will have been started under the previous one, and it can take time before a new housing policy is introduced and has an impact on building.

How many homes do we need?

No recent government has seen enough homes built to keep up with demand.

There are various ways of measuring the ‘housing gap’ between how many we need and how many we’re building. One way is comparing projections for the number of new households with current house building.

England is projected to have 210,000 extra households per year between 2014 and 2039. A household is a person living alone or a group of people living together (such as a family), and two or more households can share one house. We don’t necessarily need one house per new household.

We can compare the projection to the main house building figure of 143,000 in 2015. Alternatively there’s a more detailed figure of 190,000 more homes in 2015/16, which includes conversions and changes of use.

In 2014 Dr Alan Holmans, a housing expert at the University of Cambridge, produced new estimates of the housing gap. They were based on 2011 data but took housing conversions, second homes and vacancies into account.

His analysis suggests that we need to build about 170,000 additional private sector houses and 75,000 social sector houses each year—in total, an extra 240,000-245,000 houses each year, excluding any reductions in the existing housing stock.


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