Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Building the future

We need to build 250,000 new homes every year, probably for the next 20 or 30 years, if we are to address the housing crisis properly. The last Labour Government did not build enough homes. The present Government are building even fewer. 
If we are to build sufficient homes, it has to be through all-party agreement, because the construction industry cannot be turned on and off like a tap. And we need to train and keep construction workers to build those homes.
There is no single silver bullet; we need a range of different measures. We need the volume house builders to build more. In 2007, there were more than 5,000 firms building between one and 10 houses a year. Now, there are fewer than 3,000 such firms.
We must encourage and nurture self-building initiatives of the sort that have made a significant contribution in other European countries like Holland.
But we also need to build houses for social rent. There are people who not only cannot afford to buy, but cannot afford market rents. Since 2010, there has been a 60% cut in the funding for social housing. Some, if not all, of it will have to be restored if we are to build sufficient social homes in the future.
The Government’s right to buy policy envisages a one-for-one replacement. But, there’s no point selling a family home and replacing it with a one-bedroom flat. Like-for-like replacement is what is needed. If there is an acute shortage of social housing in some areas the right to buy should be restricted.
We have to ensure that development is on brown-field sites first. Why is the proportion of houses built on brown-field sites declining? But, we must also be honest with people. Even if we build on all the available brown-field sites, we will still have to build on some green-field sites in this country. So, we need to sign up local communities to recognise and accept some green-field, sustainable development. 

Over the past 30 years we have had a collective failure to build sufficient homes in this country. We need some collective agreement across the political parties about how we do build those homes over the next 20 or 30 years.