Is house building at record levels?

14 December 2017
What was claimed

Last year we saw 217,000 more homes being built in this country. That is a record—apart from one year—for the last 30 years.

Our verdict

217,000 is how many more homes there were in England in 2016/17 than the year before. That’s the second highest increase on record over the last 26 years. 184,000 of these were newly built in 2016/17.

“Last year we saw 217,000 more homes being built in this country. That is a record—apart from one year—that is a record for the last 30 years.”

Theresa May, 13 December 2017

There were 217,000 more homes in England in 2016/17 than in the year before—but not all of these were built from scratch. 184,000 new homes were completed in that period using the most complete figures on house building we have.

Over the last 26 years an increase in the number of homes of 217,000 is the second-largest increase on record. It peaked in 2007/08 at 224,000.

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Homes built vs. net additional dwellings

The figures the Prime Minister quoted aren’t just for the number of new houses that have been built, but are actually for “net additional dwellings” across England in 2016/17.

Net additional dwellings are the number of homes added to the overall stock of houses in one year compared to the year before.

This figure takes into account homes that are converted or are changed to residential use, having previously been something else like an office or agricultural building. It also takes into consideration the number of homes that are demolished over the year.

Of these net additional dwellings in England, 184,000 were newly built homes. This is the figure for “completions”, meaning homes that were finished in that year—we don’t know exactly when the building of these homes started.

Is this a record?

The Prime Minister also said that 217,000 homes built is a record—apart from one year— for the last 30 years. Based on the available figures this is correct looking at all homes added to the overall stock, rather than new homes built.

We have figures on all additional homes added to the housing stock going back 26 years to 1991/92. Over that whole period, 217,000 was the second highest figure on record— after 224,000 in 2007/08. We’ve asked the Department for Communities and Local Government if there are figures going back any further.

Looking just at the new homes built last year (184,000), there were two years in which this figure was higher. In 2006/07 193,000 new homes were completed, and in 2007/08 there were 200,000. We aren’t aware of any figures going back further than this using this measure.

These are not the only housing figures

It's also possible to get historical figures back to the 1920s, although they count fewer housing completions than in the data we have been using, and only go up to 2016. These figures show that house building has been mostly decreasing since the 1960s, so a record number in the last thirty years is not as high by longer historical standards.

The Department for Communities and Local Government also publishes both quarterly and annual figures for recent housing completions. The quarterly figures also show the number of homes started. However, these numbers are thought to be less complete and are known to undercount the number of homes.

The quarterly data puts the number of new homes completed in 2016/17 somewhat lower—at 148,000. It also puts the number of houses which were started in this time at 163,000.

Correction 14 December 2017

We added the term "in 2016/17" to the conclusion of this piece, in two places.

Update 4 January 2018

We've added more information on house building back to the 1920s.

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