LibLink…Tim Farron: From Whitehall to the Town Hall, why we must say Yes to Homes

This week the National Housing Federation is running a Yes to Homes week to encourage councillors to allow more homes to be built within their areas. From their website:

Just a small handful of people can block the new homes that are a lifeline for many. When they are the only people putting pressure on local politicians their views are heard loud and clear.

All too often the people who actually need homes are missing from local debates. That’s why we have launched the Yes to Homes campaign. We want to make sure people who do support more housing are included in the debate.

Tim Farron has written a blog for them in which he talks about the desperate need for homes, particularly in rural areas. It’s not about buildings, he says, it’s about people:

But the housing debate isn’t about buildings, it’s about people. It’s appalling that in significant parts of the UK, you need a salary of at least £100,000 to stay in the village you grew up in. And it’s not just a few people – the problem is real, and it’s widespread.

It’s a problem exacerbated by second homes – in St Minver, North Cornwall, more than 42% of homes are owned by part-time residents. In communities like Elterwater in my constituency it is as high as 86%. This has a real and major impact on a community. Post Offices become unviable, school roll numbers become unsustainable, bus routes are axed and services removed.

It should be local communities, not Whitehall, who determine their area’s housing needs and build accordingly:

Too much emphasis is put on the concept that building affordable homes is like a mathematical formula dictated by central government, when it shouldn’t be. It needs to be driven by councillors and local people so that it is tailored to local factors and the local economy. An affordable home in Wiltshire isn’t the same as the valleys of Wales and we need the government to reflect that.

And he outlines what the lack of housing means for families while saying that fixing it is a central mission for our party.

When I visit constituencies from Cornwall to Ceredigion and from Eastbourne to Edinburgh, I hear the same stories – families desperate for a home to call their own. Families struggling on, week after week and living on a waiting list for an affordable or council house, just hoping the call will come telling them they have a home.

The wait must be awful, but we have the power to fix this. There are things that national government can do: the Liberal Democrats have unveiled a series of policy ideas showing how we can boost growth – including a plan to build up to 25,000 new council houses. However, we will only be able to tackle the housing crisis with the support of Liberal Democrat councillors working together with local people to get the homes built locally.

I have met people that live in squalid homes because it is all that they can afford. That should not happen in 21st century Britain. We should work to fix it and this should be a central mission of our party.

You can read the whole article here.

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  • jenny barnes 4th Sep '13 - 1:12pm

    ” including a plan to build up to 25,000 new council houses”
    Hmm. Harold Macmillan had a plan to build 300,000. Still, we wouldn’t want to be over ambitious or anything.. 25k is about 60 houses per local council area.
    There seems to be a complete failure of the imagination in this area, or maybe the housebuilders are steering the policies to maximise their profit. There’s lots of space to build, over rail stations, garages, supermarkets and other light industrial sheds; brownfield land etc.etc, even in London. So y o y o y don’t we?

  • David Simpson 4th Sep '13 - 2:23pm

    In this area the majority of people accept homes need to be built but object to the lack of infrastructure to ameliorate problems they will cause. Several thousand cars extra through narrow roads in conservation areas WILL cause problems. Minimal extra surgeries and schools WILL. Cause problems.
    If a few well thought roads were put in and connected to through routes then building would flourish but all the time developers scream and try to escape with the minimum for existing and future residents then people will object.
    Either the Govt needs to cough up for road infrastrucure or introduce tougher powers for councils to insist developers do.

  • patrick murray 4th Sep '13 - 3:18pm

    @jenny Actually Lib Dem policy is closer to Harold McMillan’s! Last year conference passed an excellent housing policy paper that committed us to building 300,000 homes a year. Here’s the link:

    What Tim is referring to I think is the economy motion at Conference which calls for the pooling of Council’s borrowing room for social housing, which should free up Council’s to build 25,000 social homes.

    That said I hope conference gets the chance to debate the Social Liberal Forum amendment to that motion on housing, which refers back to last year’s policy paper and reaffirms that target. They published their amendments recently here:

  • Richard Church 4th Sep '13 - 3:31pm

    David, the people with their cars, their children needing schools etc are already with us. Building houses doesn’t create people, the people are already there, living in overcrowded flats, sharing with parents, whatever. Of course we need to build the schools, surgeries and other public services that people need, and we will need to do that whether we build them homes to live in or not.

  • Peter Davies 4th Sep '13 - 5:16pm

    @Richard Church
    Nationally they are already with us but a local housing shortage can persuade many to move to the neighbouring borough and then they cease to be the local council’s problem. Because housing is a national problem but infrastructure costs are largely local, you need a mechanism to ensure that councils are not worse off if they allow more homes. The government’s “New Homes Bonus” is the first step in the right direction for a very long time.

  • jenny barnes 4th Sep '13 - 6:17pm

    Thanks Patrick
    I vote in favour of it ( I think I did already! )
    “Liberal Democrats believe that we should stimulate a major programme of house
    building to stimulate the economy, with at least 40 per cent of new build social or intermediate
    tenures. We envisage a systemic change in the operation of the housing market, which will lead
    to 300,000 new homes created each year, through a number of measures to stimulate financial
    investment from the private sector, free up local authorities and other housing providers to
    invest and increase the supply of land.”

  • Helen Dudden 4th Sep '13 - 6:21pm

    I think we should ask those who were voted in to serve the community, to pull themselves together.

    In Bath, they are now forcing those with empty homes to sell, we have buildings that have been empty for over 25 years. Waiting to be turned into a pub hotel.

    Don, what is going on here? I have asked before with no answer, the Lib Dems are very good at not answering questions.

    So far in Government there has been large increases in rents, benefits caped to prevent tenting privately as viable. Disabled people paying the bedroom tax because of equipment of simply lack of suitable housing.

  • A Social Liberal 4th Sep '13 - 6:56pm

    There are two probems with this.
    *The government greatly reduced the grants for building new social housing and told councils/housing associations to put rents up to 80% of private rents to get the money to build more.

    *NIMBYs will fight tooth and nail to stopany large scale building programme, aided and abetted by councillors who put retaining their seat above doing the right thing. Funny thing is, those opposing building new homes have theirs.

  • Tony Greaves 4th Sep '13 - 9:12pm

    I think Macmillan’s 300,000 new build houses in some years in the 1950s were all houses not just council houses – though there were a lot of those.

    “Yes to Homes” is a rather silly, simplistic slogan. Building a lot of large low density expensive (and often poorly designed bog standard) homes on green fields will not solve the problems, though this is what the developers want to do.

    What we need is a real expansion of affordable housing, led by Councils (and LDs together with the LGA etc have shown how this can be done if the Treasury is prepared to drop their dogmatic opposition) and housing associations (who are now the main providers of what is unfortunately now called”social housing” in many places.

    One problem is that in the present condition of the housing market and the current level of government./HCA subsidy, social housing is not financially viable on brownfield sites (which is where it is sensible, needed and possible) in many parts of the country. Even in some cases if the land is thrown in for free by the Council.


  • John Carlisle 5th Sep '13 - 7:45am

    @ Patrick Murray. “Libdems are closer to MacMillan’s policy”. Is that not the problem – it is just a policy? MacMillan went on and built those houses. We have not. We just have a policy. I have said it before on this issue, and I will say it again: we need to understand how to get things DONE. As Marx said (after Goethe), in the end all things must still be done, because he understood that your deeds will be all you will be judged by as a leader.
    It is beyond the time when we really delivered on this.

  • I like the question immediately following on from the quote cited above from the NHF website, which they deliberately don’t attempt to answer in any constructive way:

    “What is stopping the right homes, being built in the right place and at the right price where you live? ”

    I suspect for many areas where there is high demand for housing, the answer is a total lack of available undeveloped land at any cost. For most parts of London, new homes requires massive redevelopment of existing land, through compulsory purchase etc. etc.

    So once again what we have is a lobbying group offering a cure that is in fact just a media soundbite. I wonder whether the proposed lobby law would make this style of campaign illegal?

  • Helen Dudden 5th Sep '13 - 9:55am

    @Simon Shaw, we will see if Don gives you a reply. There have been sit ins on the Weir in Bath, with a boat. Sit ins to protect out toilets , still on going. Having many tourists we do need toilets that are accessible.

    Of course, the Councillors wish to protect their seats, that is a sad side of human nature.

    We need answers to questions, should we keep protesting on subjects to be noticed? I voted Lib Dem for over 20 years, this changed when I found that I was not being listened to.

    I never had a reply from the office of Nick Clegg on the subject of child abduction, this is another subject, increasing and very painful I can assure you, to those of us who know how it feels.

  • Dominic Curran 5th Sep '13 - 3:07pm

    @ Helen, I think you misunderstood Simon’s point, which was that if you want a reply you need to ask a question that makes sense, and I must agree with Simon that yours doesn’t.

    Tim’s article misses the point well made by posters above this that the power over new homes resides not with councils but with NIMBYs. Thankfully, this is changing as Planning Inspectors force councils to ‘objectively assess’ housing need as the NPPF rightly demands. This is needed as, since the abolition of regional spatial strategies, there has been nothing really stopping councils under-providing homes.

  • @Dominic Curran
    The power over new housing resides with the LOCALS, that is absolutely correct, particularly if you believe in localism. Whilst people have the power to object, for their objections to be considered as possible grounds to not approve an application they have to be on valid planning grounds. So lets have less use of pejorative language and start to respect peoples rights.

  • Helen Dudden 5th Sep '13 - 7:51pm

    Actually, it was the Councillors that objected, and had the petitions ongoing.

    Far from missing the point, I think that I put the situation clearly as it stands.

    It is the council here that wishes to close toilets, to leave buildings empty, these buildings are being sold now in some circumstances.

    Of course, property is getting more valuable in Bath, it is becoming a very expensive place to live.

  • Malcolm Todd 5th Sep '13 - 9:11pm

    Helen, you may have put the situation clearly as it stands in some other forum, but not in this discussion on this site: I doubt anyone who isn’t already closely involved with the specific issue you’re talking about* can have the slightest idea from what you’ve said about it or know what the question is that you want Don Foster to answer.

    *I don’t know whether being involved would help, but it might.

  • Helen Dudden 5th Sep '13 - 9:20pm

    I ask the reason, why there has been petitions, and why it should be sit ins are needed to make a point.

  • Maximilian Wilkinson 5th Sep '13 - 9:34pm

    Cheltenham Borough Council has just approved its housing strategy. There are some very vocal groups who are against building new homes, even on areas not designated as greenbelt. The problem is that these people are not interested in a debate, they just want to protect all grassy areas, regardless of any shortage of homes.

    I applaud Cheltenham’s decision, but it might mean some Lib Dems fare less well at the next election. Not least because the last local manifesto pledged to protect the greenbelt.

  • Malcolm Todd 5th Sep '13 - 10:19pm

    What petitions? What were they about, to whom were they submitted and who submitted them?
    What sit-ins? Where and by whom, and what was the point they were intended to make?

  • Helen Dudden 5th Sep '13 - 10:52pm

    Sit ins are just that, you sit in and protest. This is happening with empty buildings and toilets.

    Petitions are just that, you organize a petition to prevent building, or anything you wish not to happen, end of that. Councilors have been involved with the petitions against housing.

    It happened in Peasedown, and now is happening in other places , they say it is the more upmarket places that do this the most.

    I think there should be questions asked, when buildings remain empty, and have had ongoing planning permission for over 20 years. You may feel differently.

    That is what I wished to ask Don, as I have said before, I feel that I, and others have the right to know.

    Nothing against Don, or the councilors, but they elected to serve, and in respect, I feel it would be good to be informed.

  • Malcolm Todd 6th Sep '13 - 9:04am

    Helen, I didn’t ask “What are petitions/sit-ins?” I asked “What petitions/sit-ins?” You seem to assume that everyone knows the specific issues you are talking about and we don’t. I think this was Simon Shaw’s point: if you ask questions of Don Foster or the councillors in the same way as you have put them here then it’s not surprising you don’t get an answer, because they may well have no idea what you are talking about or what you want to know!

    There’s no point my continuing to put questions to you about it, because I clearly don’t have anything to contribute on the specific, local issue that you are referring to. However — at the risk of appearing condescending, though I genuinely mean only to be helpful — I’ll make this suggestion: try, when composing your questions to others, to imagine them being read by someone who doesn’t already know what is in your mind; perhaps even ask someone who isn’t as familiar with the issue as yourself to read them first and see whether they can easily tell what you are asking for.

  • Helen Dudden 6th Sep '13 - 9:34am

    I think that I have made things more than clear, there is to be a debate this Thursday with full council on the subject of toilets and housing and the bedroom tax. The 1000 signatures have been reached.

    Of course, in the city there are many issues still outstanding.

    As a student of international law, of course, I am not that bright and can’t provide information satisfactorily. I shall have to remember this as I comment on family law, (done recently) and of course Brussels 11a, and addition to the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, of which your Party has no input in the House. You have no one that represents your constituents within the All Party.

    I will remember, by the way Happy New Year, and may your year be filled with honey and apples.

  • patrick murray 6th Sep '13 - 10:55am

    @Tony Greaves and Roland

    I think you both rather miss the point of this campaign. The aim is to get people who recognise there is a housing crisis to speak up and influence their local authorities. In many areas one of the biggest blockages are very vocal minorities who campaign against all housing. It is up to local people and authorities to decide where homes should go, but at the moment half the population are remaining quiet and politicians are running scared.

    So what the NHF have decided to do is run a campaign to raise public awareness about the housing crisis and encourage people to lobby their own Councils and Councillors. It is deliberately not prescriptive, rather it is about creating the political space to combat some of the rampant NIMBYISM in this country that does block development.

    Just as a declaration of interest I do work for the NHF, but my support for this campaign predates my employment with them and comes from my experience as a Lib Dem Councillor and Cabinet Member for Housing in Oxford, where there is a extremely acute housing crisis and a lot of very privileged NIMBYs blocking any development.

    @John Carlisle I agree, and have written articles for this very website making much the same point! I was merely pointing out our most recent policy paper passed. The next step is getting people to implement it, as you rightly say.

  • @Dominic
    The reason why you hear protests more that support is that the planning system is already permissive, namely if there is no valid planning reason to reject the submitted plans get approved. So if you agree with a plan there is no real reason why you need to do anything.

    I understand your point, but we should remember that the reason the (central government) politicians are running scared (and have done so for many years) is that they through their policies have directly lead to the current housing crisis. Hence it is misguided to blame citizens for pushing back on to central government problems of its own making.

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