Help tackle the housing crisis

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England’s housing market is fundamentally unfair; it has left millions of people in insecure, unaffordable and low quality housing, whilst many others have seen their wealth increase dramatically. For many people, especially the young, the prospect of a secure home is a pipedream. The Federal Policy Committee’s working group on Homes and Planning wants your help to fix the English housing market and deliver the homes the country needs.

Although housing and planning is a devolved matter, we would welcome contributions from members outside of England about how their approach works and if there are any lessons we can learn from them.

There have been a wide range of estimates of how many homes England needs to build, ranging from 380,000 to around 200,000 a year. We believe that with a shortage of labour, skills, materials, available sites for development means that we should prioritise building social homes first and foremost – since the sector is currently struggling to build its current number of homes. These meet those in the greatest need, and can help bring down rents more generally.

We also want to ensure that homes are built to the highest standards. At the last election, we had robust and ambitious proposals for making homes fit for a carbon-neutral future, but we’d welcome any ideas you have to improve on those proposals.

As mentioned earlier, there are serious labour and skills shortages in the construction and development sector – with a rapidly ageing workforce and a draconian immigration policy, it is incredibly difficult to build any more homes than we currently do. We would welcome any ideas for getting new people into the sector and upskilling construction.

What we want to do with our housing policy is bring security to people, not to prescribe what type of housing they live in. We want renters to have stability and security of tenure as well as fair arrangements for landlords. We’d like to hear how we can do this, without

As liberals, we want the community to be part of decision making, but when it comes to housing developments local voices are often ignored. We want to give greater input to the community, possibly through greater use of Neighbourhood Plans, so that all voices can be heard.

New homes need the proper infrastructure to be in place, too often this is not the case or homes are massed where infrastructure is already good, leading to overcrowding. We want to hear how we can ensure infrastructure is funded properly and spread evenly throughout the country.

We also want to tackle the challenge of second homes. In many parts of the country, especially Cornwall, Devon, the Lake District and London, second homes are driving many communities to the wall. We want locally tailored solutions to this problem, and would welcome any thoughts you have on this.

There is also the question of land, a long running issue in liberal circles. We want to find ways of better capturing land value, and encouraging its use for productive activities, so we can get infrastructure and homes built affordably.

We’d also welcome any thoughts you might have on the planning system itself. We think there is a positive role to play for planning, but it’s often held back by poor resourcing and support. We don’t think the planning system needs a fundamental overhaul, but needs greater support in order to work the way it should.

You can find the consultation paper here. The deadline for responses is the 18th March.

We will also be hosting a consultation event at this year’s Spring Conference on Sunday the 13th March between 16.35 – 17.40, where we will discuss our proposals.

* Cllr Peter Thornton is a member of the Federal Policy Committee and Deputy Leader of Cumbria County Council and lead member for Finance. He is also a South Lakeland District Councillor.

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24 Comments

  • The shortage is of “available” homes. Empty homes should be made available.

    1. Owned by named persons resident overseas – Compulsory Selling Orders.
    2. Owned by anonymous companies based in tax havens – Unexplained Wealth Orders followed by either Compulsory Selling Orders or confiscation.
    3. Owned by UK residents – Compulsory Selling Orders. Limit the number of properties owned per person.

  • nigel hunter 18th Feb '22 - 9:59am

    After the war a large number of prefab homes were constructed.They were factory built and rapidly developed.They were quickly distributed to where needed. With modern construction methods they can be built now..Ideal starter homes for rent or buy .They do not take up a lot of land and can be built on small land areas already near infrastructure (shops,schools etc).They are being built today ,some as homes,Bradford) One estate in Leeds one (Queenswood) has been around since the war.With proper maintainance they can last a considerable amount of time

  • John Marriott 18th Feb '22 - 10:39am

    I sat for many years on one of our local District Council Planning Committees and, from what I saw, it was often almost like Jekyll and Hyde. Individual applicants were often subjected to the planning equivalent of the ‘third degree’, while major and minor landowners and builders were often allowed to run rings around the committee. Reform is urgently necessary if more houses are to be built.

    Let’s start with those builders sitting on parcels of land with outline planning permission. It they don’t enter definitive plans by a certain date, they should relinquish the right to build and have to start the process again. Perhaps a more draconian approach might be for that land to be taken into public ownership for local authorities to build on. Secondly, if new council properties are built for rent, the right to buy them should be denied in perpetuity. Thirdly, let’s reaffirm that nobody is entitled to a view. Just because your property overlooks a pristine field doesn’t mean it should never be built on. Finally, before new estates are built a traffic impact survey needs to be undertaken and its findings taken seriously.

    I see that Cllr Thornton is what we used to call a ‘dual hatted member’. The problem is that the District does the planning and the County does the highways. Had his area had a unitary council, all dealings would be, so to speak, under one roof, which is surely a much more effective and efficient way to proceed.

  • I’m with nigel hunter on this; however, I’d go further and take the draconian step of prioritising ‘council homes (with NO RIGHT TO BUY) over private homes..

    Over three years ago I wrote…”The sale of council homes has been a major cause of homelessness and high rents; in short, a disaster for those on low incomes. When Thatcher came to power over 40% of tenants were in affordable council homes; now it’s less than 8%. Over 40% of those homes sold are now rented out at much higher rents (supported by taxpayer’s housing benefit)……………In 2012 we promised to build up to 300,000 affordable homes a year; in 2014 we promised the same (BTW we didn’t even reach 50k)…..”

    Back then interest rates were minimal and, had we kept our promise, around a million more affordable homes would be in use. Since then things have got far worse and now, as in all times of crisis, a government should act in the public interest…

  • Every council should have to run a Private sector leasing scheme and every landlord who owns an Ex-Local Authority House should have to offer their rental to the council first BEFORE being able to lease it on the open market.

    The council-run leasing scheme does pay marginally less rent than what would be gotten from the open market, however, the council is the tenant and thus pays the rent and they are also responsible for any damage caused to the property, which is peace of mind and security for the landlord.

    Schemes like this help the shortage of social housing and stop rogue landlords from letting substandard properties.

  • I agree with expats, Margaret Thatchers’ governments sale of council houses was one worst decisions, among several others, made during their time in office, a lesson to be learnt there I believe!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 18th Feb '22 - 12:30pm

    Disagree with expats, and Barry. Like the ideas of Matt.

    The idea of the Tories was not wrong, the implementation was a disaster.

    The Liberal party had property rights, home owning, in its constitution. We ought to have a policy of all rent becomes ownership, in most circumstances, in our ideal scheme of housing. Nobody should now be enslaved by landlordism, whether in hock to a private or public landlord. I lost my house and rent in middle age. Very sad.

    Thatcher went bad on the issue, because she flogged them off. Not just to the sitting tenant. Nothing was wrong with a policy which sold to someone five years in one home, with a modest reduction, no right to sell soon. It changed. And they did not replace. That was the shambolic bit.

    But to say to a family who had loved there area, home, neighborhood, move, rather than buy it, was mean.And would be now. I support home ownership for everyone. As usual the party missed a trick and often does, trying to be more Labour than Labour!

  • I always believed, just like Boris Johnson’s levelling up rhetoric, the selling up of council houses was a con trick to increase the Tory party’s vote and it probably worked in the short term.

  • Mark Smulian 18th Feb '22 - 1:31pm

    I’m glad to see Peter acknowledges the construction industry’s skills and materials shortages, as all too often Lib Dem housing policy fails to take account of who will build new homes and out of what.
    Brexit has made a bad situation worse with construction labour but skills shortages were an issue when I first started working for construction industry magazines in the late 1980s and little has changed.
    A solution may perhaps lie in ‘modern methods of construction’ [https://www.nhbcfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/NF82.pdf] where homes are assembled from components manufactured off site by people who need training but not to the extent of traditional building crafts. See also my article Living in a Flat Pack in Liberator 390: https://liberatormagazine.org.uk/back-issues/

  • I often wonder when people talk of “carbon neutral” housing, are they including the emissions inherent in building the house, as opposed to running it?

    It is estimated that the footprint of building the average new house in the UK using current construction techniques is 50 tonnes of CO2. So at the bottom range of the house building target of 200,000 homes per year, that’s 10 million tonnes of CO2 PER YEAR.

    A lot of that is because steel and cement production using current technology is very carbon intensive.

    If we want to tackle the housing crisis AND the climate crisis, we need to invest in new technologies to reduce the carbon footprint of house building. We also need to be more flexible and imaginative about refurbishing and repurposing existing buildings. The carbon impact of refurbishing is much lower than building new.

  • Jenny Barnes 18th Feb '22 - 3:13pm

    I’d like to see all councils owning and providing for sale suitable building plots with outline planning permission for anyone to build on. Seems to me that a lot of the problem is that the major builders only want to build a certain number of houses- not enough to meet demand. I’d also like to see land bought for social housing at current (ie without planning permission) value, maybe with a small uplift. I see no reason why agricultural land should suddenly be worth many times more when it’s given planning permission – the public should capture that increased value.

  • Chris Moore 18th Feb '22 - 4:15pm

    In Spain, the provision of housing is much less destructive of countryside because the large majority of people live in flats. Construction goes upwards

    Towns therefore tend to be smaller geographically. This promotes lively centres as they are in walking distance from outlying suburbs. Public transport is also more viable as less routes/stops are needed for the same volume of passengers. Therefore it’s cheaper.

    Flats are not associated with second-rate living. And are frequently luxurious and well-appointed on the interior.

    A change of mind set away from individual houses – whether detached or terraced – would help with urban planning and quality of life.

  • Kyle Harrison 18th Feb '22 - 5:33pm

    It’s all well and good having a dig at right to buy, as some comments have, but it was the people that wanted right to buy, and if you build a new generation of council homes the people will probably feel the same after enough time has passed. Many middle class people want to own a home, people with less money do also. I think it would be more practical to have councils think outside the box and build homes available to rent and to buy. And then reinvest the profits into more housing… Give people an opportunity to rent a home, they have to live there for 5 or plus years to show commitment, and then allow them to buy via an agreed scheme. You could maybe fix the price rises so that they do not run out of control, that could be the “cost” personally of joining a council type scheme. You benefit less maybe in later life from house price rises but you get the security up front.

  • Brad Barrows 18th Feb '22 - 5:46pm

    @Kyle Harrison
    I’m not sure if the majority of people supported Right to Buy – certainly the Tories never won more than 44% of the vote under Thatcher so not sure how much support there was for some of the policies she enacted. That said, I would object less to Right to Buy if it applied to all tenants, irrespective of whether they rented from a public or private landlord.

  • James Fowler 18th Feb '22 - 6:21pm

    Britain stopped building significant volumes of social housing via state aid after 1976. Since then, the private sector had chugged along as it always has, building about 150-250k houses a year. It’s not enough, and probably needs to be supplemented by about 100k via state intervention. Housing has been such a great gig for so many for so long that it’s hard to imagine taking on the colossal vested interests in inflated prices. Partly it’s about greedy companies, but really it’s about almost any middle class person over the age of 60 who’s done better than they could have ever dreamed of when they first bought a grimy flat in London back in 1992…

  • Jenny Barnes 18th Feb '22 - 8:34pm

    Cross laminated timber can be used to replace steel & concrete in many building applications

  • Let’s prioritise sufficient housing for everyone. The easiest way is via the public rental sector with new homes having world class sustainability, affordable rents and security for the rentor. If this requires more public input into this sector so be it.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 18th Feb ’22 – 12:30pm…Thatcher went bad on the issue, because she flogged them off. Not just to the sitting tenant..

    As I understand it only sitting tenants could buy their homes ( the size of the discount depended on how long you’d been a council tenant..
    However, Just like ‘Tell Sid” the ‘give-away’ sale of council homes was a ‘get rich quick scam’ sold to a willing public..
    Who could refuse the chance to buy mum’s/granny’s council home at a fraction of it’s value (in granny’s name of course) and selling it on after granny’s demise at market value..The ‘spiv’ landlord’s saw ££££££ signs as buy to rent investments (subsidised by the state’s ‘housing allowance)

    What those not buying a ‘sure thing’ weren’t reminded of was;
    a) They had paid for the original properties to be built..
    b) They had effectively subsidised the council house tenants who bought them at an undervalue ..
    c) They, as ratepayers, no longer had the benefit of rent from the properties which their taxes helped to build…
    d) They were paying, through housing benefit, the higher rents charged by private landlords.

    ‘Everyone should own their own home’?..In 1974 (At 30) my wife and I bought a house in Wimbourne at £12,200 (at little more than a year’s salary).. Three years ago it was sold for just over £600,000.. Good luck to the average 30yo

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th Feb '22 - 2:09pm

    expats

    Undersood, yes to much of this,however, council policies in Wandsworth flagship Torries in control, sold hundreds on open market! Legal apparently?!

  • We need to cap rent rises to inflation. Our new l88 year old andlord from Kent wants to put up our rent by £100 a month and sell us on, having owned us for 3 months. He lives in a HUGE mansion. If we agree, and we dare not argue above we look after the place and pay on the nail while the others keep changing or are empty. Reply there are good and bad changes in life. If I move out my flatmate cannot afford the £150 a month over housing benefit out of his pension. The LibDem/Inde council here wants to charge a minimum of £2.40 parking per time to walk my dog where a disabled person can, banning us from most suitable places in summer. Pleas fall on deaf ears. My disability has gone up £2 each year for 27 years!!! Will we two pensioners join the tramps outside our home?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Feb '22 - 12:29pm

    Siv

    I belive your comments are essential to read. You ought publicise that failure by your council, throughout the party. Maybe we can change the minds thus.

    We need radical policies that favour those of us locked out of home ownership, not cow towing to social or private landlords!

    Buy your home, as a policy is good, buy to let is bad. Rent is awful, I know, I lost my house!

  • Matt Wardman 20th Feb '22 - 4:17pm

    @Nigel Hunter
    >One (postwar prefab) estate in Leeds one (Queenswood) has been around since the war.With proper maintainance they can last a considerable amount of time

    Could you provide some more information here? I’m especially interested in the density to which the Estate was built, and how much open space was included, since we now build almost everything to tight density standards with a minimum % of the latter.

    >James Fowler
    Housing has been such a great gig for so many for so long that it’s hard to imagine taking on the colossal vested interests in inflated prices.

    This is very telling. The single greatest distortion in the housing market is the approximate £30-35bn per year of subsidy given to create the “no CGT on main dwellings” loophole. Which delivers perhaps £120bn a year of tax-free money to home owners in the form of price increases. £35bn is not far short of the entire turnover of the Private Rental Sector.

    Compared to that, everything else is rearranging deckchairs.

    The OO sector has other issues – it is the least energy efficient, and causes by far the most emissions, and is by far the largest sector. And – since the PRS is heavily regulated and less efficient dwelling being gradually banned, and the Social Sector is largely newer stock – the lowest quality stock is gathering either in the OO sector or in criminal rental.

    Unfortunately I do not see these important questions being debated.

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