Opinion: Time to take the politics out of housing

We need an Office of Housing Responsibility to take politics out of housing.

Planning minister, Nick Boles said on 17 July 2013.

Every government member will be able to campaign with pride on the Localism Act at the next election in 2015, because by 2015 it will have delivered.

Nick Boles is wrong. Localism won’t have been delivered by 2015. And it never will be until there is agreement on how to solve the housing crisis.

Localism is not being delivered because local plans are not being completed. Too many plans are being held up with by a four-way ping pong between councils, communities, developers and the planning inspectorate. Mostly they are batting housing numbers back and forth.

Until local plans are in place, there is not much hope for neighbourhood plans – the level at which localism will come in to its own. The best we can hope for is 200 plans in place before the election, leaving around 10,000 to go before England is comprehensively covered.

Localism is on the slow train, yet Nick Boles and Eric Pickles want it on the express. That’s why their planning inspectors routinely nod through unplanned housing developments, especially if there is the slightest suspicion that local councils have failed to identify the nationally prescribed level of housing land supply. Yet every housing scheme that is approved against local wishes undermines localism. Communities get every more angry with the planning system and divert their energies into protest, not cooperation.

Some call this nimbyism. I call it a planning system that doesn’t work.

Of course there are disputes about other planning issues – factories, high speed rail lines and bypasses among them. But most of these disputes don’t bring the planning system into disrepute. The systematic failure to deliver housing is another matter. Housing is not a gamble on future prosperity like High Speed 2. It is the fundamental building block of social welfare. Decent homes underpin our wellbeing and reduce other social costs.

The problem we face with housing is that there is huge mismatch between the expectations of communities and the demands of developers. It’s a problem that will never be resolved until we take the politics out of housing numbers.

That’s why I think it is time to establish an Office of Housing Responsibility (OHR). Modelled on the Office for Budget Responsibility, the OHR will lift the assessment of housing need above the squabbles of local and national politics.

The aim of the OHR should be to establish a national compact on housebuilding. It must gain widespread agreement on future housing needs. It should promote financial models, public, private and social, that get those houses built. It must set standards, well beyond those of the miserably weak national planning framework, that ensure that open spaces and quality of life are not sacrificed simply to make developers a profit. If housing is not delivered, the OHR should write an open letter to the prime minister telling him, and all of us, why that is so.

We all need to face uncomfortable truths and the biggest uncomfortable truth of our lifetime is that we are failing to provide decent houses for the people that need them.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Shropshire, and a former editor for Lib Dem Voice

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in News.
Advert

16 Comments

  • Tony Greaves 19th Jul '13 - 11:11am

    Well why don’t we just “take the politics out of” everything. Then we can all go home, put our feet up and have a nice time??!!

    Tony Greaves

  • Andy Boddington 19th Jul '13 - 1:14pm

    Tim

    The NHPAU was never designed to deliver consensus, just the narrow Kate Barker model of housing provision. It was blinkered by a single economic model

    It failed. We need something broader, a body that has a remit for consensus building. Its objective should be to deliver housing in the way that OBR and the Bank of England Advisory Panel have a remit for a stable economy.

  • Andy Boddington 19th Jul '13 - 1:16pm

    Tony

    Sometimes confrontational politics can’t deliver. That’s why we need to create bodies that create consensus.

    Anyway, you can’t go home and put your feet up when you don’t have a home to go to

  • We need to hit Buy to Let(ers), with a seriously draconian tax. What is the point of building new affordable homes, if the well heeled simply snap them up for cash, to add to their portfolio, and milk the Housing Benefits system for yet more profit?
    Sorry Andy, you’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope on this one.

  • “The problem we face with housing is that there is huge mismatch between the expectations of communities and the demands of developers.”

    The problem we face is that this is the showdown that the planning system creates. There are far more stakeholders than this, the most obvious being the households that would move into the new homes if they get built. However their voice is silent. A ways to solve this:

    a) If the planning system was geared up for more self-build like it is in Germany, the developer would be the same actor as that potential household. Councils should consider selling its landholdings as housing plots rather than as whole sites, with an agreement that any reasonable plans for a house built to a certain standard will be approved.

    b) Support campaigns that are attempting to bridge this gap. I’m a volunteer for PricedOut and we’re looking to establish local groups of would-be first-time buyers in the UK’s pricier areas (we’d like your support: http://www.pricedout.org.uk). There is also the NHF’s excellent Yes To Homes campaign with similar aims.

    c) Stop encouraging Nimbyism in our local campaigning. We passed our Decent Homes For All policy paper last year, which ambitiously calls for 300,000 new homes to be built every year. Nevertheless I see local parties campaigning to reduce housebuilding in their area, which is in direct conflict with the spirit our democratically agreed policy. York Outer Lib Dems are a particularly egregious example.

  • David Allen 19th Jul '13 - 3:01pm

    Everybody says there is a huge unmet need for affordable housing. And yet the market outside London is still slow, we have a Chancellor who thinks it needs subsidy to keep it afloat, and plenty of houses won’t sell.

    Perhaps the answer to the paradox is that the people who need housing are the poor, and they have no market clout to get anything built that actually suits their needs. Meanwhile, builders want to go on making steady profits selling 4-bed detacheds built on nice green fields. but the need for these is actually much less. Hence Osborne’s stimulus economics (yes, it is stimulus economics isn’t it, when it suits him!) is needed to get these built, and the real need is doubtful.

    If that is so, then the Nimbies are not altogether wrong. They should not be sacrificing their local fields to more middle-class estates.

    What should be happening is affordable house building, driven by need, not by a (rigged) “free” market. Less housing than the Government thinks, but more of it of the right kind.

  • jenny barnes 19th Jul '13 - 3:43pm

    Politics is one of two ways of reconciling the irreconcilable. No, it’s not going to be possible to take the politics out of housing.

  • I think Andy Boddington’s article is naive. It is based on a political decision that it would be a good thing to build houses equal to the housing need and that nimbyism is a bad thing.

    The political debate on the number of houses to build is often based on misinformation and so there may be a case for an independent body that provides for each council forecasts of demand for houses in their local area for both social and private houses at different levels of demand (i.e. just the housing waiting list, just for those living in the area, for everyone who wishes to live in the area). I recall my council group leader saying the council’s housing policy was “consuming one’s own smoke” that is providing new houses to meet the demand of the people living in the borough and not providing extra houses for other parts of the county.

    The people who decide what is built should be accountable to the electorate. It is better to have the decisions made at a local level and that is why I support the idea of neighbourhood planning committees and not one Borough committee for the whole borough. I think this is done in Liberal Democrat Eastleigh.

  • Gareth Wilson 20th Jul '13 - 12:26pm

    @Duncan – we tend to agree on things 🙂

    “If the planning system was geared up for more self-build like it is in Germany, the developer would be the same actor as that potential household. Councils should consider selling its landholdings as housing plots rather than as whole sites, with an agreement that any reasonable plans for a house built to a certain standard will be approved.”

    Couldn’t agree more on this. What people object to is massive housing estates in areas that are completely unsuitable. Small scale developments and ‘infilling’ of areas create little objection.

    I’m currently leading a community group in opposition of a 400 dwellings development in our cheshire village, Mobberley. I’ve galvansied support of hundreds of residents in a week of the plans being announced. However looking at the census data the village grew by nearly 1000 people (85% )in 10 years, from small developments, home extensions and barn conversions. This gradual expansion over 10 years created no objections whatsoever.

    I’d like to see a clear message sent to developers that small scale developments will get an easy time through the planning process, with huge developments not in keeping rural areas rejected by default, regardless of whether a local plan is in place or not.

  • Helen Dudden 20th Jul '13 - 11:25pm

    Politics is being used here in Bath, to control the building of badly needed homes.

    Homes will provide security for growing families and also to promote growth in the financial sector.

    I wonder what the comments were on the building of the Georgian stock in the city, they are everywhere. Of course, they did once cover the fields and open areas. Now worth millions in true value.

    I am sorry Don, but things do have to give somewhere.

  • Tap Mobberley into Rightmove and out of the 72 properties currently for sale half have asking prices of over £500,000. Nice of the local party representative to be in the vanguard of opposing more housing but after all the barn conversions have been done isn’t this just ‘we’re happy so leave us alone?’ 400 houses is hardly doomsday.

    Apologies for sounding quite so cynical but it does seem that to do one thing locally and say another nationally is a constant party theme when it comes to housing politics (and yes the idea that it isn’t a political issue that instead can be managerialised away is another).

  • Max Wilkinson 21st Jul '13 - 4:43pm

    As far as the party’s role is concerned, Duncan Stott has nailed it:

    c) Stop encouraging Nimbyism in our local campaigning. We passed our Decent Homes For All policy paper last year, which ambitiously calls for 300,000 new homes to be built every year. Nevertheless I see local parties campaigning to reduce housebuilding in their area, which is in direct conflict with the spirit our democratically agreed policy. York Outer Lib Dems are a particularly egregious example.

    Supporting wealthy elderly people in their campaigns against homes which will make things better for younger generations is not what we should be doing.

  • But do we really need 3 million new homes – an increase of 12% – in the next decade? Unless we are going to knock down millions of old draughty houses to replace them with Passivhauses, I would suggest that we don’t.

    What we need is a smaller number of houses, built to meet the needs of poorer people, who can’t afford to buy or even rent at market rates, and who are therefore living in squalor in our wonderful free market economy.

  • Andy Boddington 22nd Jul '13 - 8:56am

    David said: “Do we really need 3 million new homes?”

    I think the answer to this question is “not quite”.

    The ONS says that households in England will grow by 2,205,259 between 2011-21. So that’s 221,000 households a year. This is an estimate and is a downward revision from the previous estimate of 242,000 a year a few years back.

    Annual housing starts totalled 101,920 in the 12 months to March 2013 – so we are building or creating 120,000 fewer homes a year than we need.

    In 2012, there were 710,140 empty houses. This figure can never be zero, but surely we can gain a quarter of a million homes by being more aggressive in tackling this obscene situation. (Instead, we have criminalised squatting.)

    But we can’t duck the issue that we are at least 100,000 homes a year short of need.

    It’s not important that people own their homes. But tenant security is vital. People need security and that security benefits us all through stronger communities. Tenant security in the private sector is a pretty rare thing and it is being eroded in the social sector.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarMike S 25th Jun - 11:17am
    @ Fiona Yes, I’m sure Jo’s very sensible and mature stance has not been lost on Layla. Leadership in 21st century Britain is a huge...
  • User AvatarMike S 25th Jun - 11:08am
    @Andrew Hickey, @ Holly Matthies Andrew, just clicking around over a cuppa, in between sorting out the jungle that used to be known as my...
  • User AvatarCassieB 25th Jun - 11:01am
    Wise words from Tom. And Glenn. The dreadful thing is that most of the mess was entirely foreseeable. And yet despite the recent lessons of...
  • User AvatarJohn Kelly 25th Jun - 10:46am
    John McHugo's comment is wise as always. He is of course too modest to mention his own book on Syria which is well worth reading....
  • User AvatarAndrew McCaig 25th Jun - 10:46am
    The Labour manifesto was, as said above, a manifesto for opposition, not for government, full of big promises to the middle class and with an...
  • User AvatarJames Pugh 25th Jun - 10:38am
    Civil Emergency?
Sat 1st Jul 2017