This week is the National Housing Federation’s ‘Yes to Homes Week’. Their imaginative campaign is designed to raise local awareness of the need for more homes and to get local support, especially from councillors, for new developments. Through the campaign website you can register your support, get campaign ideas and download a guide for councillors.
The campaign is aimed at councillors from all the political parties and it is intriguing that the website carries articles from spokespeople from the main three. Planning Minister Nick Boles’ piece was replicated elsewhere in the media in a flurry of media coverage earlier in the week: some interpreted his article as ‘a challenge to Cameron’. Well Cameron clearly has a lot of challenges on his plate at the moment as his rush to war has reduced Britain to the role of ‘a little island that no-one listens to’ (if you believe the Russians).
Boles begins his piece with a passionate declaration on the importance of a secure home – ‘one of the most fundamental human urges’. ‘If you know that you are likely to stay in your home for some time, you are more likely to meet your neighbours, support local community groups and get involved in local schools’. But here’s the rub: ‘That’s why Conservative Prime Ministers… have believed in home ownership’. He then talks about reform to the planning system, ‘Help to Buy’, and land supply.
Boles wastes not one word in his article on rented homes, which is surprising given that home ownership is in decline, there is huge interest in ‘Buy to Let’ and there is huge demand for social housing. He says nothing about affordability except in the context of ‘Help to Buy’, which most economists think will only put prices up at a time when wages are static. He apparently sees no contradiction between the ‘human urge’ for a secure home and the Government’s removal of security of tenure from new affordable rented homes. And he appears to have forgotten that Macmillan as Housing Minister and later Prime Minister built a huge number of council houses as well as homes for owner occupation: he believed in a balanced tenure policy. It must be that modern renters lack this ‘fundamental human urge’.
Labour’s Jack Dromey takes a more balanced view of tenure and the range of housing needs than Boles: ‘Millions locked out of home ownership, spiralling waiting lists for social tenants, rising homelessness and soaring rents’. The challenge to build more covers homes for rent as well as homes for first time buyers, to bring escalating prices and rents under control, and his proposals include major reform of the private rented sector. He emphasises the economic benefits of building homes and the wider social benefits as well in terms of health and quality of life. He uses examples of Labour Councils pledging to build more and to regulate private landlords. And he identifies the increasingly vital challenge in housing – that 95p in every £ spent on housing goes in housing benefit and only 5p goes on building homes.
Tim Farron, President of the LibDems, has a tricky path to tread as he leads a party with an excellent housing policy which has forgotten to take any of its policies into Government. It’s interesting that he focuses on rural housing, and I agree with his comments about the importance of providing more affordable homes in villages and his comments that the huge number of second homes in some areas – over 40% in some parts of North Cornwall – is destroying communities. Unlike Boles, he at least appears to have heard of rented housing and supports an increase in council house building. But his view the ‘we have the power to fix this’ and ‘there are things that national government can do’ are rather at odds with the supine way that the LibDems have let the Tories run away with housing policy within the Coalition.