I watched the two programmes on the Great British Property Scandal last night.
The Government is committed to supporting growth and innovation by avoiding unnecessary regulatory burdens on landlords. But we are also looking at measures to deal with rogue landlords and encouraging local authorities to make full use of the robust powers they already have to tackle dangerous and poorly maintained homes.
Shapps as usual shifted 100% of the blame onto councils.
The second programme I found more problematic. George Clarke explored the scandal of empty homes with passion and anger. More empty homes should be brought into use if they can be – I agree.
But the empty homes debate obscures the real one – the need for more new homes. This is a fox that Shelter has tried to shoot before by showing that bringing empty homes back into use can only be a very small part of solving the crisis we have.
In his written piece in the Telegraph, he’s highly equivocal about the need for new homes. “I’m not against new development at all” he says and even “ I don’t have a problem with building on certain areas of green belt”, but as long as “there is a massive demand and the local area are quite happy for them to be built.”
What constitutes massive demand? How many more people living in the conditions Jon Snow highlighted before we build more homes? And even then, people who are well housed get a veto over whether they are built or not.
He argues for the densification of our cities, transforming their character to that of Hong Kong or New York – but will the people of British cities support that anymore than those in rural or suburban areas whose veto on new development he wants to strengthen? He’d also have to bulldoze a hell of a lot of those terrace houses he values so much to turn London, Birmingham and Manchester into Hong Kong.
This to me sounds like architects’ folly. Many of Britain’s current tower blocks and failed estates were the result of architectural ideology* being imposed on people regardless of their preferences.
We need to take seriously where people want to live. That may not be in Hong Kong-style skyscapers nor in small Victorian terraces in parts of Britain where there are few jobs or opportunities. Then we need to build more of those homes.
We don’t need another property programme, even one shot through with moral outrage, that obscures rather than highlights the key problem.
* Une maison est une machine-à-habiter. (A house is a machine for living in)