By Bill Peters
Recent comments by Nick Boles, the Planning Minister, and activity by other Ministers does begin to suggest a dawning realisation that we have a housing crisis and something needs to be done about it. Boles is beginning to sound as though he accepts the case for more development and the use of more green field sites to achieve that and is politically ready to push this through? We await the housing announcements after the Autumn statement but perhaps there might be a glimmer of hope? The question will partly be how much the Treasury reigns back such ambition?
Talking of ambition or lack of it – a visit to the DCLG housing statistics site is very depressing these days. DCLG has moved its website to the new Inside Government site and in the process has pruned the statistics accessible on the site. It is now quite hard or even impossible to find some of the key historical series that help keep government to account?
So one step forward and a big step backwards? History will judge them all but it is those without homes or inadequate homes who bear the cost
Steve Hilditch adds:
I agree with Bill that Boles’ media offensive last week was an interesting development. Anything that makes the CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) blow a gasket must be good. But the new Planning Minister has previously said he prefers ‘chaos’ to planning and there were signs of chaotic, and indeed confused, thinking in what he said.
First, making an abstract calculation that an extra 2-3% of land developed as housing would ‘solve’ the housing crisis tells us nothing about where it would take place – and whether it would be demand and need-led and therefore concentrated in particular places. The question is where?
Secondly he did not address the issue of brownfield land. Apart from Mr Boles, who appears not to like fields very much, there is considerable support for giving highest priority to building on previously developed land, especially in London and the South. Upping the proportion on brownfield land was one of John Prescott’s better achievements. The GLA’s various capacity studies in London show how much land is available if we look for it and have the will to make it developable.
And that brings us to the third point. Boles skated over the real reasons why new building is so low: little to do with planning, little to do with sites, and a lot to do with the lack of effective demand in the economy and confidence.
The fourth point is related – builders appear to like making more profit from a low level of activity than a lower rate of return from higher and riskier turnover. They seem to be sticking to the sure things and raking it in.
Fifthly, what Mr Boles said about affordability could be jotted on the back of a stamp. As a report showed last week, now is the best time to be investing public funds in social rented homes: by creating jobs and rehousing people currently in temporary accommodation it would have a hugely beneficial effect on the public finances.
And lastly, I would be happy to support Mr Boles’ opinion that everyone has a right to bring their family up in a house with a garden if I didn’t know it is complete bunkum to say such a thing. And as a former cabinet member for housing in Westminster, he knows that very well. It is cruel to wave such a notion in front of the tens of thousands of people in temporary accommodation or those currently losing their housing benefit who would be delighted to get a decent flat they could afford. But somehow I don’t think he had the poor in mind when he was pontificating.