4 Oct 2013

2012/13: lowest year for official UK housebuilding since the 1920s


A vital number for any politician claiming to care about living standards (all of them). For young people. For those impacted by high house prices.

Prime Minster David Cameron Visits A Land Securities Construction Site

In the last full financial year, 2012/13, for UK housebuilding 135,117 new homes were completed. This is the lowest number on record, ie post war.

It is lower than the low numbers you could plausibly blame on Labour after the crisis (though the lows in housing starts, not completions, are still for post-crisis Labour, despite Gordon Brown’s promises for 300,000 a year).

Completions are the end point of all the myriad of government policies, economic conditions, planning, banking stability and the weather. Still, given all that, it is fairly extraordinary that the coalition has managed to hit this unwanted modern record (the most recent low, which could plausibly be pinned near Labour in 2010/11 was 137,400).


Strip out Northern Ireland and you can begin to project back further into history, as the great Brian Mitchell has printed figures for housebuilding in his Cambridge Economic History of Britain.

At 128k for Great Britain in 12/13. It appears that it was only lower from 1940-45, 1907-1923, 1905, & then before 1896. (Except 1876 at 130k was higher).

Now it is true that there are now some signs of less bad developments in housebuilding, and the Treasury will point to its initiatives from Funding for Lending to the Help to Buy scheme.

But take the proclamations we are getting from the government about high rates of growth in housebuilding with a hefty pinch of salt. Housebuilding completions are starting from modern record lows, the rates of growth are bound to be high. The levels, however, show that something went wrong in 12/13 (and it is partly the weather).

Turning the corner means going from abysmal to terrible, if you think rising household formation needs more houses.

Next time you hear a minister or a politician talking cost of living, think about this 135,117 number.