Letter from London: The coalition’s mid-term review should give pause for thought about housing and planning, writes Paul Finch
The predictable news that house-building has slumped to 1920s levels has prompted the usual nonsense about land shortages, problems with the planning system, Building Regulations and so on.
The reality is that, unless and until mortgage finance becomes available on reasonable terms, the private housing problem will continue.
As for social housing, unless an Olympic-style initiative takes place we will continue to have a dearth in London and parts of the South-East, breaking up communities and making life difficult for the young ‘squeezed middle’.
The slightly sick-making propaganda about the benefits of private rented housing, generally proclaimed by people with at least one privately owned house, ignores a fundamental reality of British life: a house or apartment that you own outright after paying off a loan over 25 years is a very sensible investment. You build up a nest-egg which will help you through your dementia years.
Why a Conservative-led government is so eager to discourage home ownership is mysterious, perhaps explained by the fact that the lamentable level of private house-building shows little sign of improving.
Finance has been found for banks, wars, overseas aid – indeed for almost everything and everyone except ordinary young British taxpayers trying to make their way in the world.
It is almost beyond belief that those in social accommodation are facing massive increases in rent in response to so-called market levels that have been determined by the failure of successive governments to ensure housing supply.
Perhaps it will take another round of riots, prompted by the ethnic and class cleansing envisaged by certain local authorities, which think the lower orders should be expelled from their patch – unless they are servants – before this is addressed.
So, housing needs serious attention in the mid-term review, but is not the only area for concern. Having made a very decent job of re-setting the planning system via the National Planning Policy Framework, everything has been thrown up in the air with yet another ‘review’ which appears to be aimed at building sprawl all over the countryside.
This should certainly be resisted, since it is quite unnecessary and is a diversion from the fundamental issues affecting housing supply.
The lust for ‘reviews’ has also been apparent in airport policy, where the lobby for a hopelessly short-term fix over Heathrow expansion has resulted in a manifesto commitment (no new runway) being ditched, along with the transport secretary – sacked for upholding government and party policy.
No doubt ministers will blame Whitehall bureaucracy for delays to decisions on all this, when it is they who are responsible. They are also responsible for the disgraceful postponement of a rating revaluation (until after the next election), which will result in further high street degradation as retailers in northern towns go out of business. Mary Portas must be wondering why she bothered.
Closer to home, the good news is that Ed Vaizey is promoting a review of the state of British architecture; ie we have a culture minister who is actually interested in the subject.
The bad news is that Michael Gove is still peddling his mendacious view that school architecture doesn’t matter. We had better be grateful that he is not running the NHS.