Liberal Democrats call for new housing revolution

The Liberal Democrats are calling for a major overhaul of the powers of local councils to meet the goal of ensuring that everyone in Britain has a home.

The package, passed by the party at its Spring Conference in Southport, calls for new powers that will see local authorities able to build and invest in more affordable and social housing. This includes greater access to borrowing for local authorities, strengthened powers to bring empty homes back into use and the power to direct the use of otherwise unwanted public land. Alongside measures to allow local government to abandon Right to Buy and to require that profit from council house sales is invested in new social housing.

These proposals would empower local communities to provide the affordable and social housing that Britain needs and tackle the housing crisis head on.

Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat Housing Spokesperson, said:

Having a place to call home is a basic human right. In the face of a national housing crisis we are failing as a country to fulfil that right. It is clear that the private sector cannot be relied upon to deliver affordable homes for those struggling to get on the housing ladder.

Social housing is one of the pillars that underpin our welfare state. It is a vital safety net for tens of thousands of families who cannot afford to rent privately, let alone ever buy their own homes. We need local government and housing associations to provide new social housing directly.

The Tories seem content with presiding over an end of social housing. Their ideology is ownership, they don’t believe we need social housing at all.

We need to move away from providing shadowy land banking and towards greater housing provision. That is why the Liberal Democrats are empowering local councils and communities to provide the housing that is needed.

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  • David Becket 12th Mar '18 - 10:55am

    It is not just the number of houses, or the proportion of social housing but the construction that needs consideration.
    There is already a shortage of building workers and as Brexit sees the plumbers returning to Poland and painters to Romania it can only get worse. At Graven Hill in Bicester custom and self build properties of modular construction are offered, on a council owned site. In Leeds a Housing Association is providing modular build homes. With most of the construction in a factory this speeds up the build time, and does not need so many polish plumbers. Modular build has developed a long way from prefabs and static mobile homes, and Lib Dem Councils should be encouraging these developments.

  • Neil Sandison 12th Mar '18 - 11:10am

    David Becket pre-constructed modular housing is the way forward straight out of the factory and onto the building site .Developers would also benefit because they would avoid potential penalties for failing to build out on time in line with their planning approvals .Council and Housing Associations should be the lead organisation where the developer does not want to do the build we can accept a payment for section 106 or Community Levy .

  • William Fowler 12th Mar '18 - 11:34am

    Private developers could be encouraged to hand over part of the land they are developing for these housing “pods” rather than do social housing themselves, parts of council car parks could be taken over and there are loads of govn and council land where they could be plopped down on with services nearby. Force the energy and water companies to connect up for free to offset the huge sums they have paid out in dividends, you would be looking at 40-100k per unit. Could it be funded by issuing housing bonds, given the scarcity of returns on savings?

  • @David Beckett – re: There is already a shortage of building workers and as Brexit sees the plumbers returning to Poland and painters to Romania it can only get worse. … modular construction

    In some respects the growing shortage of cheap building workers is an enabler to the modular construction industry. We do need to be careful as bundled into Brexit are many things that in themselves have very little to do with Brexit and that are potentially beneficial to both the UK economy and society.

  • John Marriott 12th Mar '18 - 1:40pm

    I grew up in a council house in the 1950s when that was the norm. I don’t personally see why the ‘council house’ has become such a dirty word in some quarters, even being termed “a stigmatised last resort” at a housing conference I attended as a District Councillor a few years ago, when Thatcher’s ‘Right to Buy’ was decimating housing stocks up and down the country.

    In Ms Hobhouse’s native Germany, for example, people generally look on houses as somewhere to live not, as has been allowed to happen here, as a way of making money. When I got married in 1969 about three month’s salary would have been enough for a deposit on a house. It’s a bit more than that today, isn’t it?

    I’ve nothing against people wanting to own their own home; but not everyone wants to and some just cannot handle a mortgage. Government and local councils have just got to take the bull by the horns. Ignore the imbys mascarading as guardians of the countryside. Take away the right to buy and stop selling Council stock management to third parties. Stop judging the success of the economy by how much house prices are rising. Make sure that ALL future shared equity schemes do not allow any staircasing. Make sure that developers don’t just hoard building land until the price is right. Make estate agents earn their corn. Why not copy the Scottish idea of the ‘sealed offer’ to discourage gazumping? And… let local councils go ahead and build more social housing.

  • Some astute and insightful comments around the need to retain capacity in the construction industry and having options such as self-build, modular housing share-ownership in the mix.
    I think in the 1950’s council housing was the norm but you generally had to be in regular employment to secure a tenancy. Unemployment was measured by the claimant count in the 1950’s and was similar to today’s levels of claimants. In the 1950s, the low average rates of unemployment (around 3 per cent) did not include the majority of women, who were considered “economically inactive”. The numbers of mothers in employment has tripled since 1951 and so too has the number of single parent households.
    The 1977 Housing act shifted preference for council housing to the homeless without increasing supply. Coupled with the reduction in available public housing from right-to-buy, getting a council house is no longer an option for many working families and too many estates have developed difficult problems with anti-social behaviour.
    Wera Hobhouse is right when she says “having a place to call home is a basic human right.” Land prices are at the heart of the housing crisis. When we get serious about tackling that issue all else will fall into place.

  • nigel hunter 12th Mar '18 - 10:02pm

    Yes land prices,s should be tackled. In the mean time could the party research on which Councils are producing module housing and see how it is done. In this way we can learn not to make the mistakes that they may find in the construction and development of same.
    Which companies in the uk produce modular housing. These could be linked into a new Association ready to produce them in bulk.In an economy of scale this could reduce the cost of production further.
    As they are cheaper to build they therefore need less of a deposit and lower wage families will be able to afford then be it for rent or owning.This way in a possible decline or slower growth potential in the country will make housing affordable for all. With the development of apprenticeships in the industry production could start quickly.

  • Nigel,
    here is a large scale modular housing initiative already underway

    Self-build is another option that is being trialled on council built plots with infrastructure and utility connections in place

  • David Becket 13th Mar '18 - 9:39am

    @Joe B
    It is not just the Chinese moving into the market. Homegrown Facit Homes, ,
    are working with Cherwell Council at council site Graven Hill, Bicester on the largest such development in the UK. Pity it is not a Lib Dem Council

  • John Marriott 13th Mar '18 - 9:39am

    It’s all very well and good waxing eloquent about modular housing and other innovative methods of building; but while you are fiddling, Rome is still burning!

    I know it’s not a pleasant thought for a party trying to curry favour with a largely property owning electorate (or one aspiring to be so) but SOMEBODY has got to grasp the nettle and tell people that owning your own home (or perhaps more accurately seeking to buy your own home) should never be a licence to print money.

    The trouble is, certainly since the ‘Barber boom’ of the early 1970s, generations of Brits, both young and old, have used home ownership as a way of making money, in that you start with a terrace, wait for the prices to rise, sell it and move on to something bigger and so on. I know we’ve had a couple of spells of negative equity in the past thirty years but prices have largely soared because, firstly not enough houses have been built, either to buy or to rent and secondly, banks and Building Societies have been falling over themselves to lend the cash. No wonder the average age of a first time buyer in London is now around 43!

    So, stop hiding behind arguments about building styles etc. Get the land from developers if they are reluctant to build, get the money from the banks (after all, they owe us one, don’t they?) , if necessary, train the workers (especially if all those Polish builders start returning home), cancel the right to buy, ignore the nimbys and let’s get building!

  • John Marriott 13th Mar '18 - 10:05am

    In my enthusiasm I forgot to say that local authorities need a water tight Local Plan to make sure that infrastructure improvements, especially new roads and public transport, go hand in hand with any major development. Before I retired as a County Councillor last May I was part of the Central Lincs Strategic Planning Committee comprising the County Council and three of Lincolnshire’s seven District Councils that successfully piloted a Local Plan through the Planning Inspectorate last year. You see, it can be done.

  • John Marriott,

    can’t argue with that – housing as homes and not as an investment class is an important element of the issue. The Barber boom was preceded by deregulation of the mortgage market in 1971 i.e. allowing clearing banks to enter the mortgage market. That deregulatory measure broke the link with savings in building societies and residential mortgage loans. Residential land prices have escalated ever since and drawn in investors to the housing market.

  • John Marriott 13th Mar '18 - 3:54pm

    Spot on! So it’s a case of ‘Blame the Tories -again!’ My wife and I were caught out back then. When we emigrated in 1970 a new three bedroom detached home in the Newark, Notts area would set you back around £3000, requiring a deposit of around three months’ of my teacher’s salary. When we returned to the UK in 1974 that same house was fetching around £12,000! It goes without saying that teachers’ salaries over that four year period had nowhere near kept pace with house price inflation. If only we had rented out a home while we were away!

  • Peter Hirst 13th Mar '18 - 5:55pm

    Renting is not always a bad thing as it improves mobility as long as it is well regulated. Perhaps it could count towards a mortgage in some way to improve its acceptability. A financial inducement to rent based on the length and cost of tenure and an effect on the deposit for a new home might improve the fluidity of the housing market.

  • Helen Dudden 14th Mar '18 - 6:14pm

    Poor housing that is not up to Decent Homes, causes both mental health issues as well as physical ill health. There should be a real determination to improve housing for all. If it could be improved with modular housing, and a firmer approach to resolving housing by increased building, taxing empty homes, then this should be completed as soon as possible.
    I also feel, those sleeping in doorways in city centres, should be another problem taken seriously. I know the young homeless are another overdue problem with the added benefit cut backs.
    In Bristol there are converted containers, made into very comfortable small homes. Better than a shop doorway.
    We need family homes, as well as social housing for single people. More help for those with abuse issue’s, before it goes beyond the point of no return.

  • Richard Underhill 29th Mar '19 - 9:54am

    Speaking in a thinly attended House the Tory MP for Norfolk South spoke at length about housing. What he said about Persimmon’s reputation in the industry was, of course, under parliamentary privilege.
    He was congratulated by the Minister, who recognised quotes from his own speeches.
    The ratio of house prices to average earnings in various locations in the UK and in several employers was much too high. A hedge fund in London was paying newly recruited graduates £75,000 a year, but they could not afford to buy housing anywhere realistic.
    He forecast that the consequences for the electoral future of the Conservative Party over the next 20+ years are damaging.
    The motion was that ‘this house should adjourn’.

  • Richard Underhill 8th Apr '19 - 10:04am

    Dragons’ Den on 7/4/2019 was a repeat, but there was no update on progress in housing.
    The business seeking investment was prize-winning, but had not reached the stage where the Dragons thought they could make lots and lots of money.
    Barbara Jones and Eileen Sullivan did not have a factory in the UK. They wanted to build large numbers of smallish, well insulated, healthy houses from natural materials. They are currently designers, but would become manufacturers if they get sufficient investment. Their problem is that they need to work with property developers.
    None of the Dragons said CUT OUT THE MIDDLEMAN! Try working directly with local councils.
    Two Dragons did say that they could be customers for individual buildings or extensions. Deborah Meaden liked all the healthy, environmental issues, but, although a millionaire, baulked at the size of the investment needed to achieve critical mass.
    There is a book, widely available. Building with Straw Bales.
    Mortgages have always been available from the Ecology Building Society.
    Insurance is available from the same companies who cater for thatched roofs.

  • Richard Underhill. 4th Nov '19 - 6:49pm

    Imagine building a house, or perhaps an extension, out of cork. The material is stripped from trees in Portugal, which then grow another coat. Because the material is lightweight there is less need for lots of concrete foundations. Insulation is excellent. A firm of architects have demonstrated the product on Grand Designs on Channel 4. Blocks of cork sit on blocks of cork, speeding up construction on site.
    During the coalition Lib Dems wanted to build new towns in a ring around London, but the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said “They will all vote Labour” and opposed the proposal.
    The Duchy of Cornwall is thinking long term, possibly longer than Prince Charles expects to influence, or see, a new town, which is nevertheless going ahead. The policy is that the town should grow slowly and should have the infrastructure that developers are inclined to ignore or forget.

  • Richard Underhill. 5th Nov '19 - 9:15am

    The National Audit Office has said thaa government plan to create 200,000 new homes for first time buyers has resulted in NO homes being built. Announced in 2014, aimed at people under the age of 40 and sold at a 20% discount. The necessary legislation was never passed.

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