You don’t have to be that close a student of politics to realise there is a fundamental change in the way politics works these days. The Brexit vote, Trump, the potential rise of UKIP and FN in France indicates a shift in the balance of power between ruler and ruled. Everywhere the discourse is around ‘taking back control’, disruption, and anti-‘elitism’ (even if those ‘taking back control’ seem suspiciously establishment themselves.)
Yet I’m convinced this ‘populism’ will move beyond wider politics and enter other sectors of the economy — like housing. People are rising up and looking to disrupt systems that don’t work. We see it already in areas like rail transport, and I’m convinced that we’ll start seeing the ‘broken’ housing sector be disrupted in the same way.
Disruption usually occurs when top-down markets fail to deliver what people want. Closely controlled levels of supply, poor quality service, higher prices than the majority of people can afford — the mantra applies to train travel as much as it does our housing market. And disruption in almost all cases involves giving power back to the people to help them realise their own demand.
There is a huge, proven demand in the UK for people to build their own homes. Why are we waiting for developers to up their supply here and there? Why instead aren’t we liberating our citizens to create their own homes and satisfy themselves?
This is the very definition of disruption, and yesterday’s White Paper, while hardly completely liberating would-be self builders from the usual shackles, goes some way to making things easier for ordinary people to deliver.
The thing is, disruption usually happens quicker than the timelines that we’re talking about. I often hear people in the self build sector talk about it needing a generation for the housing market to change. I’m not convinced that people struggling to get on ‘the housing ladder’ in their mid 20s (who would very much like to design and build their own customised home in the way that pretty much everything else in their lives are customised) will be patient enough to wait until their 50s to realise their dreams.