For many people, their phone and laptop (or tablet) are their office. They no longer need to spend hours travelling to an office in London or the nearest large town to start their working day. They can do it at home on the kitchen table, in a local coffee shop or at a co-working space.
The Office of National Statistics revealed that 4.2 million people worked from home in 2014. The latest figures are likely to be greater still as Britain continues to evolve into a nation of small businesses. Even people who commute to their jobs rarely do so every day as working remotely or from home one or more days a week has become the norm.
This impacts on where people want to live. The commute to work either becomes non-existent or less important. This opens up areas for development that were once considered unsuitable and comes at a time when the government is finally trying to meet the UK’s chronic housing shortage.
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As a result of the current housing crisis, the government announced a major overhaul to the National Planning Policy Framework last month. It says that this will deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.
This is all well and good and sounds like great news for small developers as it opens up more affordable areas outside central London and the major cities. But is it?
First off, it only makes sense to build new homes if people want to live in them. Even people who work from home need infrastructure. One of the concerns about the proposed five new garden cities between Oxford and Cambridge, for example, is whether buyers will be able to get to and from schools, shops and places of work. Without this infrastructure, new homes will remain empty.
Second, who is going to build all these new homes? The major housebuilders now have a stranglehold on development in the UK. But the big developers alone cannot build all the homes the country requires.
Unless the government supports smaller housebuilders by speeding up the planning process and cutting the red tape, smaller developers will continue to struggle. Without this support, this government, like so many before it, will fail to make a dent in our national housing crisis.