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News Reviews from 2015

Natalie BennettHousing Policy and the 2015 election

by Mark Iddon

The meltdown of Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, on LBC Radio last week caused a few sniggers about her ability to be a serious contender in the general election but it distracted attention away from any discussion of the merits or otherwise of the Green Party housing policy.


She was perhaps foolish to make an announcement of their forthcoming policy document including the building of 500,000 new homes without having facts and figures at hand to support her initiative, as she was in a complete muddle when held to account as to how it would be funded. It was quite painful to listen to but many people can relate to the experience of mind blank when the spotlight is on them.


Housing may become an issue in the run up to the election as the Conservative party today (Monday) announced plans to help young people with starter home initiatives. The Labour Party said the Tory plans would not be effective and that they were the party of to address the housing crisis.


The years 2012–2013 had one of the lowest house building rates since 1923 so it was quite crafty of David Cameron to use the modest increase in the last 2 years to project that in 3 years we may be close to what the Home Builders Federation say is the minimum that we need to build each year.


The widely recognised problem of the decline in house building over several decades has led to increased value of the existing housing stock resulting in huge differentials across the UK with house prices in the South East mean that young people even in secure well paid jobs are struggling to save a deposit without assistance from relatives and friends. According to the Home Builders Federation, over the last 40 years the house price to salary ratio has almost doubled, with close to a fifth of women and a third of men aged between 20 and 34 still living at home. Social housing waiting list has almost doubled in the last 10 years to 1.85 million.


Households Survey


Over the last 10 years the home ownership amongst 25 -34 year olds has dropped from 59% to 36% and those of the same age group in privately rented accommodation has more than doubled from 21% to 48%. The term Generation rent has come into use to describe the changing demographics. You could ask what is the problem as there is no right to home ownership and doesn’t a mortgage just tie you down both in a locality and to your job which you need to avoid defaulting on your mortgage / rent payments. For the Tories it is talk of investment, for the Labour party it is the dream or the aspiration of having your own home and for the Green party it is the security. The problem is not the tenure itself, but that housing as one of our biggest monthly outgoing has implications on our liberties and opportunities whether it is being tied to a job we are not happy doing or being unable to move or save up for the activities we really enjoy.


You can pay rent to a landlord which may often be more than a mortgage prepayment where you can move with a month's notice but the property will never be yours. You can save for a deposit and take out a mortgage and after 25 years of paying back double the amount you borrowed, the property is yours. There is a risk of a recession in the economy having the effect of a fall in house prices and the value falling below the amount you borrowed and therefore in a state of negative equity. It is not about whining that ‘it is not fair’ that we spend so much of our working lives to pay for accommodation at a premium rate due to a lack of development. It is because I believe in the progress and development of a civilised society that, as the General election approaches and all the parities try to win us over, we really should hold them to account and ask some probing questions.


The Green Party, are keen to present themselves as the party who care about the vulnerable / oppressed and talk about the landlords who are able to increase rents and deprive people of their tenancy rights in poorly maintained property. They would want to see ‘smart’ rent caps, and promote housing co operatives and non profit making housing associations to preside over the rental property market and ensure that people’s rights of tenure are upheld. This paternalistic approach may protect some people in difficult circumstances but it does nothing in the long term to address the problem of the economic stagnation or to raise aspirations of a progressive society or for people to take responsibity and make something of their lives.


They are also wary of developers who would cherry pick the best green field sites and build over the countryside and are supportive of planning restrictions which are prohibitive to development. This is really scaremongering as green field sites are often protected by planning laws and may cost more to develop because of the services and associated infrastructure (roads, gas, water supply, electricity, drainage and communications networks) which are required on top of the actual development costs. Other initiatives of the Green party are to end the right to buy sell off of the Local Authority housing (LA) and for LA’s to buy back homes that may otherwise be repossessed by banks and building societies.


The Conservative Party do acknowledge that planning is a problem and are pleased with their initiative to reduce planning legislation into the National Planning Policy Framework. For all it has compressed the wording of planning law, it still retains its anti-development imperative.


All parties seem to agree on the need for ‘affordable housing’ but that is only possible if the number of new houses increases to level such as Audacity suggest which is 500,000 per year for the next 10 years at least. A real and radical overhaul of the 1947 planning Act is required to allow a real house building programme to be put into action and free us from having to spend our lives working to pay mortgages and rents so we can devote out time to more creative and leisure pursuits.

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