Housing in the UK is in crisis.
The Housing and Planning Bill currently making its way through Parliament is not an answer to the acute crisis of Housing provision faced by the UK – it will only make it worse.
Housing is a number 1 social problem – and should be a number 1 political priority, starting in 2016.
Housing will thus be one of our major themes here on the Leeds NW website in 2016.
We begin with an important report published by Leeds NE MP, Fabian Hamilton, last month.
As Fabian points out in his introduction to the report
‘The need for a safe, secure and affordable home is shared by all human beings. In the United Kingdom we are failing to provide this for a whole generation of people. Most young people cannot hope to afford their own homes. The private rented sector forces them into short term contracts, and they often have to accept sub-standard housing and overcrowded conditions. Over recent decades, local authorities have lost the power to provide for the needs of citizens, and now even the housing associations, which have tried to fill the gap, are under threat from government proposals that will force them to sell off housing stock.’
Fabian’s first concern was to commission a report – aimed at offering solutions:
‘This report does not simply give an overview of the problem, as we are all too familiar with the ways in which poor housing exacerbates social problems such as ill health – especially amongst children – crime, inequality and lack of social cohesion. Instead it offers some solutions, and looks at the ways in which an integrated approach to housing can deliver the volume and quality of homes needed for the future.’
The answers must include freeing up local authorities to build – but also could also include the creation of regional level Public Housing authorities, backed up by a National Housing investment bank:
‘Local authorities must be given the freedom to plan and create more homes. They are best placed to do this. However, they will offer only part of the solution. Their wealth of experience in housing needs to be brought together with government and institutional investment. The creation of Regional Public Housing Authorities could bring together local authorities as social housing providers. We also call for a National Housing Investment Bank. Elsewhere in Europe, such banks have proved effective at channelling investment into new housing development.’
Housebuilding has important knock-on effects for the economy more widely:
‘An integrated, locally planned and sustainable housebuilding program provides benefits that go way beyond simply building more homes. Improving the housing stock benefits the wider economy, boosting building and allied trades, and thus supports many small and medium sized enterprises. In addition, these offer training and apprenticeships that lead to local employment.’
But any Twenty first-century housing policy must be alert to the challenges of energy consumption and the green agenda:
‘Twenty first-century housing must also respond to climate change. Good homes will reduce reliance on expensive energy. The Passive House model has been shown to reduce energy bills by up to eighty per cent, reducing harm to the environment and keeping money in the pockets of householders. Existing homes can be ‘re-greened’. By reducing VAT charged on refurbishing older and derelict property, we can help rejuvenate the housing stock. ‘
Fabian ends by calling on Labour to use this time in Opposition to develop a coherent alternative vision:
‘Finally, what is needed is a co-ordinated and comprehensive plan for housing, offering innovative ways of planning, funding and building for the future. The election of a stronger Conservative government last May means that we will be forced to see further and deeper cuts to the system and an ever freer rein for the private rental sector. Whilst this will be disastrous for so many in our society, we must use the time to develop a coherent alternative and ensure that this vision can be realised under a future Labour Government.’
His report is a major contribution to the development of that alternative.
You can read the report in full here – http://www.leedsne.co.uk/homes-for-britain.
We’ll be drawing more on it – and publishing parts of it over the coming weeks.