Lib Dems publish plan for 300,000 homes to be built a year

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I’ve talked a few times about how housing has become an increasingly important policy in the rhetoric of Liberal Democrat ministers (see Danny Alexander set to up the ante on anti-Tory rhetoric and housing and Vince Cable on “one of the great acts of economic vandalism in modern times”).

Whether or not that rhetoric will produce policy results is the big question.

At which point, enter stage left a policy motion in the agenda for next month’s Liberal Democrat conference:

The Liberal Democrats would increase the rate of housebuilding to 300,000 homes per year, according to an upcoming policy paper.

The paper, which will be tabled at next month’s party conference, also proposes giving social tenants the power to vote to have their homes transferred to another housing provider willing to receive them.

Funded by public sector pension funds, the 300,000 properties a year target would more than double the current rate of housebuilding…

“We believe many council tenants, private tenants and housing association tenants are very poorly serviced indeed by their landlords,” said councillor Richard Kemp, leader of Liverpool Liberal Democrats and chair of Plus Dane Housing, who worked on the proposals. “By giving tenants more rights we can give them more say in what happens in their life and we can deal with a lot of the underlying problems they face.” (The Guardian)

 

* Mark Pack is a member of the Federal Board and editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire. He is a candidate for Party President.

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47 Comments

  • Why does The Guardian say all these homes will be “funded by public sector pension funds”? I can’t see anything in the motion about that, and I’m sure that it would in any case be only one of many ways used.

  • According to figures released today by the government, there has been a 24% decrease in the number of new homes being built in the last twelve months.

    21,540 homes were started in the June quarter of 2012 – compared with 28,330 in the same quarter last year.

    Shelter’s Chief Executive Campbell Robb said:

    ‘These shocking figures make it impossible for the Government to ignore the need for radical action to boost house building.

    ‘With a flatlining construction sector, building significant numbers of new, genuinely affordable homes would create jobs and stimulate the economy.

    ‘More importantly, it would send a clear message to the millions of people priced out of homeownership or struggling with high housing costs that the Government is on their side.’

  • Richard Dean 16th Aug '12 - 4:06pm

    If pension funds are paying for this, then isn’t it a pension funds plan, not a LibDem one? Or are Libdems proposing to take control of funds that are presumably managed independently at present?

    What types of homes will these 300,000 be, and where?

  • LondonLiberal 16th Aug '12 - 6:04pm

    I have only read the policy motion, not the document, so maybe there are answers in there. However, on the basis of the motion, I don’t actually see any plan to build 300,000 homes a year, despite your headline, Mark. I see a desire to do so which is followed by a list of things that may or may not help in the long term, as well as some things that will make life better for private tenants or which will improve energy efficiency, but neither of which will produce any new homes.

    The only time that we have built 300,000+ homes in any year since 1945 is through the state building the things itself. Yet there is no commitment to do so. As such, while the ambition is spot on, and the politics is great, it’s not actually at all meaningful given the tools which the policy suggests will be used to reach the target.

  • There was a time in the immediate post-war years that governments competed for votes by promising and delivering lots of house building. The Tories were even more enthusiastic house builders than Labour. Then, around 40 years ago the following happened:

    1. De-regulation of the financial services industry, causing ever greater boom-bust cycles in house prices.
    2. The proportion of the population owning their own house passed the 50% mark, at which point it became a vote winner to prevent house-building and bail out over-indebted mortgage holders at the expense of everyone else while simultaneously crying crocodile tears about the difficulties of first-time buyers,

    I first picked up on the insincere sympathy for the plight of first-time buyers in the late 80s when house prices were rocketing during the Lawson boom. It’s now a ubiquitous sentiment expressed by all politicians who, in reality, don’t give a flying **** about first-time buyers. A prime example of this is Grant Shapps who held a first-time buyers summit to which he invited plenty of money-lenders and developers but not a single first-time buyer. The result: a scheme to underwrite any losses the lenders might incur if they offer dodgy LTV loans to unsuspecting first-time buyers.

    Good luck with the latest rhetoric, but I’ll judge the coalition on its record on house building, which is, to date, atrocious.

  • “If pension funds are paying for this, then isn’t it a pension funds plan, not a LibDem one? Or are Libdems proposing to take control of funds that are presumably managed independently at present?”
    Exactly. Are public sector pension funds on board with this? Why do Lib Dems think it’s OK to commandeer the funds of millions of local government pensioners ?

  • Ed Shepherd 17th Aug '12 - 9:54am

    “Funded by public sector pension funds”? Surely the trustees of the pension funds should be the ones who decide whether the funds should be used for housebuilding. The trustees have a duty to their beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries of the funds not an obligation to meet a house-building target. Where will these 300,000 houses be built? What kind and size of homes will they be? Who is to make those decisions? What happens to the concepts of “localism” and “the Big Scociety” if local people disagree with these building plans?

  • @Simon McGrath
    Quite.

    I find the concept of ‘affordable homes’ quite absurd (are all the other homes unaffordable then?! – what a bizarre construct). If you build enough decent quality housing then they will be affordable. We don’t need more shoe-boxes, thanks.

    On the brown fields thing. I can’t think of anything more insane than building residential property on brown-field locations. Those locations are where people used to be employed, near the place they live. If you build houses there then all you’re left with is residential housing in city centres and nowhere for people to work, except maybe new business parks which tend to be built on the outskirts of cities and towns meaning everyone has to travel further to work. It is environmentally damaging in the extreme. We have huge swathes of agricultural land in the UK, most of which is a mono-culture and devoid of any interest. That’s where we should be building (houses and businesses next to each other).

    I drive through Lincolnshire on a regular basis – there’s nothing much there except agricultural sprawl- a huge county full of nothing much. If we turned just 1% of the land into housing and new towns it would be hugely beneficial to the human population as well as to wildlife (cities have a greater biodiversity than agricultural land).

  • @Stephen W
    I completely agree with you about LVT, but I think you’re being hyperbolic about the number of houses left vacant in the North and overcrowding in the South. There are a few hundred thousand empty houses in the North, but the figure for occupation is probably around 97-98% and some of the unoccupied aren’t long-term. The South East may be the most densely populated area of the UK but it is still predominantly green fields. Have a look at the satellite images on google earth. It is possible to find areas of the order of 100 square miles in the South with hardly a house in them. Have a look at the fens.

  • @Rebecca Hanson
    Negative equity is only a problem if someone has to move. Otherwise, they’re just paying what they thought the house was worth.

    At the risk of sounding like some mad Tory backbencher – it really is a home-owners own fault if they’re in negative equity as:

    (a) base rates have been slashed
    (b) house prices haven’t fallen that far compared to other countries
    (c) they wouldn’t be in negative equity if they’d put down a prudent deposit and took out a repayment mortgage
    (d) house buying is a choice that carries risks. It entails personal and financial responsibility. House price crashes are a feature of UK life – a bit like wet Summers – you should be prepared for them because we all know they can happen. In fact, they’re a lot more predictable than wet summers as they usually happen after a period of rapid house price inflation.

  • @Rebecca Hanson
    Let’s get this right – you don’t want houses built near you (or your voters) because you’re afraid of house prices going down locally – you’d much rather they were built somewhere else (on a brown field site or near a council estate) because you or your voters don’t live there and therefore won’t see your precious house prices go down locally. And besides, why should anyone else be able to enjoy living on a nice estate next to the lovely green countryside and why should anyone be concerned about the house prices of people living next to the brown field sites and council estates – those kind of people don’t matter the way you and your voters do.

    I’m sure there’s an acronym for the category of complainer you fit in to. I just can’t quite think what it could be…

  • Strange isn’t it that people object so much to the possibility of house prices going down and think it their right to obtain compensation if it happens, yet never complain when they receive a huge windfall in unearned property price appreciation. Now, if only someone could devise a system of taxation that compensated people when their land values go down and took more from them when their land values go up through no effort on their part.

  • “brownfield sites or next to council estates ”

    I’m sorry, but why wouldn’t a developer build on a brownfield site or near a council estate anyway? The land is cheaper and the margin is therefore the same as if they build on a green field site (as all the costs, benefits and disadvantages are reflected in the land value they pay for). Your argument makes no sense whatsoever. There is no conspiracy to build on green rather than brown field sites. I wish there was, because it would be better for the environment, the economy and peoples’ work-life balance.

  • Helen Dudden 17th Aug '12 - 11:19pm

    Yes at last , I think that all the bad social housing should also be replaced. When new is built, it very rarely goes to those in the social housing already, even if they have the points for a transfer. Most of the time it is those who are waiting on the list that have the new, and good properties. I have suggested in the area that I live, that some are rebuilt totally, with good sound properties that are much more comfortable to live in. Affordable property in in short supply too, these are often taken up by those in work. Storage heating, lack of insulation, mould and damp. No sign of the Decent Homes incentive.

    I agree with the comments above me, Rebecca, I think you are aware of the truth of the situation, with some landlords.

  • Helen Dudden 18th Aug '12 - 8:48am

    In some cases where I live that is not the case. If you live in an area that no one wishes to live in, unless there is no where else. You know as well as I do , some estates are not good. They were badly designed on the subject of crime, and by today’s standards badly built.. My interest is in Family Law, I believe that a good home, and one that is not subjected to police raids and crime is a good foundation for children to be brought up. Perhaps, I could add for most of us, that is the case. I know that one estate was given a total facelift and it improved the life of those who lived there. It also has improved the estate in general, with regards to crime. This would be in the interest of the landlord and the tenants. I simply state that there are estates that would benefit from rebuilding.

  • Helen Dudden 18th Aug '12 - 9:10am

    The Decent Homes Incentive and the Housing Act are in place to improve all Social Housing. There is also ongoing plans from the EU, it can be seen in EurActiv on the subject of old buildings, very interesting, this will also help those in France, on the subject of homes that are in need of renovations, and decent standards. I believe that once this gets going it will be a major change for the better.

  • @Rebecca Hanson
    “The brownfield site in our town is expensive to develop because the land has to decontaminated.
    The areas where low cost housing could be built are expensive to develop because they require infrastructure such as road connections.”

    Who do you want to pay for decontaminating the land? Someone has to take the hit. If the current landowner can only give the land away at a low value or zero cost then they will take the hit and there is no issue with the developers as their margin for developing it will be no smaller than for building on a green field site. If the cost of decontaminating the land is greater than the land value of a uncontaminated plot of land of the same size and in the same location then the current landowners will have to pay the developers to take it off them – I can’t see this happening as it would be cheaper for them to leave it vacant.

    So, people live in houses that were built on green fields yet want to prevent other people from building houses on green fields to live in. It’s not as if someone’s proposing to build an animal rendering plant or a nuclear power station next door to them – it’s just that some other people want to have the opportunity to live in the same kind of houses as those that already have them, They also seem to expect the developer (or someone else, probably the taxpayer) and the people that have invested money in the developer to pay to decontaminate land that they weren’t responsible for decontaminating. So, the NIMBYs expect people that invest their savings to make a loss from their productive investment and expect the developer and their contractors to work for free or extremely low wages to enable them to cover the cost of decontaminating land. Or am I getting this all wrong? Are your objectors all unemployed and living on the street? – is that the reason they expect other people to be unemployed and living on the street?

    Why don’t your NIMBYs club together to pay to decontaminate the land? – a fair price to pay for excluding people from building houses on the green fields next to them, which constitute over 98% of the 150 square miles centred on Cockermouth . The development you’re opposing would destroy 0.003% of the green fields within that 150 square miles.

    The ‘beautiful greenfield site’, as you describe it, has a sewage works and a busy road immediately adjacent to it. Wordsworth would have loved it: “I wandered lonely as a cloud. That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw. A water treatment works.”

    I’m with you on better protection from bad landlords, as long as there’s also better legislation to protect vulnerable landlords from some of the truly awful tenants out there.

  • “Sometimes it can be in the interested of dubious landlords and builders to make their houses unsafe so they are forced to move, purely in their own financial gain. ”

    How? I’m struggling to understand how it’s in the interest of a landlord to get rid of their customer. Making a house unsafe also leaves the landlord at the risk of prosecution. I don’t doubt that there are many landlords out there who do leave themselves at risk of prosecution (and their tenants at risk of harm), but through neglect rather than deliberate sabotage.

  • Helen Dudden 18th Aug '12 - 10:42am

    Steve, of course there are laws in place ,on the subject of tenants safety. The gas regulations for a start are very strict., I think that we will have to build homes on green field, there will be little choice in some areas.

    There has also been the subject of funding. I understand that the Housing Trusts have to pay to get their homes into the Decent Homes Incentive of needed improvements. Massive backlogs of those needing homes. They will not be all unemployed, that is not a true picture, they could even be those who have lost homes, through any reason. They will be those who can’t afford the high prices of buying a home, and with the problems of job security.

    In some ways you could have sympathy, for those trying to balance the books on how and what they spend their funding on trying to supply the housing needed.

  • “I think perhaps you have little insight into the reality of how such tenants can be bullied and harassed. ”

    Did you not read the bit where I said I agree with you about better protection for tenants against bad landlords?

    “How would you like it if you suddenly found someone was in your house”

    I’d call the police and make sure the landlord is arrested for trespass. Landlord’s do not have a right to enter a property without the consent of the person living their. The property is the legal estate of the tenant. Tenants actually have plenty of rights and means of redress against bad landlords, although I agree that things do need to be improved (especially for social tenants renting from private landlords). Contacting the property ombudsman is usually a good starting point.

    I still don’t understand the demolishing a house thing. Maybe I’m just being thick, but if a builder did a bad job of repairing my wife’s rental house to the extent that it needed pulling down (a bit difficult since it’s a mid-terrace – the two houses either side would need propping up) how would they be able to extract more money from us to do so? And why would we want it pulling down? We’re not going to be able to rent out a piece of land. I really don’t understand how you make money out of throwing a tenant out and spending money to demolish a house? Are there grants available for demolishing houses or something? Is this a big problem? Are lots of houses being demolished?

  • “Steve in the circumstances I’ve described the consequence of your calling the police would be that you would receive a county court summons for being a non-compliant tenant ”

    If someone is in the tenant’s house without the tenant’s consent then they are trespassing. If they’ve given sufficient notice to visit according to the terms of contract (usually 24 hours) then the tenant might be in breach of contract for refusing entry, but they still have the right to refuse entry. They may be subsequently evicted for the breach of contract, but if the landlord hasn’t given sufficient notice then they too are in breach of contract (as well as trespassing).

  • Helen Dudden 18th Aug '12 - 2:05pm

    We have sort of drifted off the point that we need to have further homes, even though they could be built on green belt. It does cost quite a bit to clean up an area of brown field, but it could be done.

    The private sector needs protection too, for those in this type of housing.

    There is little that could be done in this column on the subject of the person with housing problems. There is always the CAB, a lawyer, their MP. The Housing Ombudsman is another contact.

  • Helen Dudden 18th Aug '12 - 7:24pm

    Yes they can, I too have been reading law for over 7 years now, I make international law my area, mainly child aduction under the Hague and Bis 11. But for the law few years I study English Law. Yes it is possible, do you know anything about law? Look on line and see for yourself it is very easy to find, in fact any of the imformation is easy to find. What sort of tenancy does this person have? It will depend how long ago, things have changed. I think that you have not had the correct advice on the subject before. A Housing Trust does belong to certain groups that will control the way it works, they are also inspected and the findings made public. You will see if you google me, I write and consult on the subject of new law too. Mainly family.

  • Helen Dudden 18th Aug '12 - 7:26pm

    My advice remains the same get an expert, do it as soon as possible.

  • Helen Dudden 18th Aug '12 - 8:35pm

    Go on line and look it up, the Ombudsman is the person to respond to. I do not give legal advice to others I only tell them where to look on line.

  • @Rebecca
    You really need to speak to the CAB, etc, as Helen suggests.

    For what it’s worth, this is my understanding (which may not be accurate)

    A tenant, like a home-owner, has the right to refuse access to anyone wanting to access their property, unless the person has a valid warrant. The landlord would be trespassing on the property if the tenant hasn’t allowed access. The tenant also has the right to a quiet enjoyment of the property – even without trespassing, the landlord cannot harass the tenant.

    The contract between the tenant and the landlord is a civil matter. I don’t have any experience of social housing, but in the private rented sector the usual practice is for there to be a clause in the contract stating that the landlord needs to give 24 hours notice if they want access to the property. If the tenant refuses then they could be in breach of their contract, which may be used as a reason to obtain an eviction through the courts. I’ve just quickly googled a district council’s social housing contract and it has the same 24 hour clause in it, with the exception that: “In the case of an emergency likely to cause personal injury or imminent damage to property, we may enter your home without notice.”. I would presume ’emergency’ means in the same sense that a fireman might break down a door without knocking and waiting for someone to reply. If it isn’t such an emergency then they shouldn’t be entering the property without 24 hours notice and a confirmation from the tenant that it’s OK for them to enter.

  • Helen Dudden 19th Aug '12 - 11:11am

    Yes Steve you are correct, I have my contract for the Social Housing flat I live in. Because I have lived there for many years, I have an Assured Tenancy, it outlines the way we shold be treated, and treat our landlord. Should there he any emergency repair, then things will need to be addressed as, just that. But if there is a problem we can different stages of complaint procedure until we reach a stage 3 i9f we can’t agree, then we can go to the Ombudsman . It is just like using the Ombudsman for the energy or any other type of service. You have rights. The law has changed and new types of Agreement have been laid out, shorter Tenancy Agreements apply now, but there is still protection from the Landord. As the Lordlord must have some legal powers when they house their tenants. Sorry this not my type of law, but I have had experience of problems, and had to study this too. Firstly, I feel it is important to share the problem with someone who can help and advise, as I suggested.

    The Tenancy Agreement, is very much like that of the private sector. I came to study law late in my life and it is so useful.
    Thanks to the OU.

  • Helen Dudden 19th Aug '12 - 5:21pm

    Yes I did. I was not satisfied with my flat, and I had the meetings with my Housing Trust, all three, Then we moved on.

    It is not difficult, there is the CAB, the CAB have contact with lawyers, this is free. A lawyer who does housing law that covers this area. Of course the L/A, Housing Standards, your MP, everyone you can think of to get someone on your side. You try everything, keeping every letter. I prefer letters to emails, they have to be answered usually within 14 days.

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