Opinion: Homes for All, starting now

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Everywhere you look, housing, that most basic of necessities, is in crisis. Having a safe and stable home is crucial for a child’s development and the welfare of any person, of any age. Yet in the world’s fourth largest economy, after 10 years of a Labour government, there are 95,000 homeless families and the number waiting for their own home on the social housing register has risen by 60%!

Liberal Democrats believe that every family should live in an affordable home. Meeting these current and future housing needs will mean building far more affordable houses each year than the Government has done so far, and more, too, than it now promises. That’s why I’m bringing forward plans not just to build more homes, but to ensure than those homes will be both accessible to those who need them most, and to the highest environmental standards, so that people can save on their fuel bills and safeguard our planet for future generations.

Nationally, in addition to the 130,000 open market homes being built each year, we intend to provide 1.3 million dwellings over ten years, half of which will be social homes to rent. The remainder will be for ‘intermediate’ sale with affordability locked in when the property is sold on. This will ensure housing supply where it is needed, whilst ensuring that nobody is left behind.

It’s easy to announce that you are going to build more homes, but harder to outline the ‘how’ and the ‘where’. At the party’s Spring Conference in Liverpool this weekend, I will be presenting a new policy paper, ‘Homes for All’, setting out the details of our approach. For a start Liberal Democrats recognise that there isn’t a single UK housing market, there are scores of them – including in the social sector. So while government must give a lead from the centre it is also vital to enable local authorities to tackle the housing situation in their area by drawing on a wide range of different policy measures appropriate to their circumstances.

Councils will also be able to pilot schemes investing in rising land values, resulting from planning permission being granted through tariff based systems, as well as gaining value from Community Land Auctions. Developers will not only be providing new homes, but also helping to pay for the infrastructure needed to sustain a true community.

It is the duty of a responsible government to develop new policy instruments. We will therefore encourage not-for-profit companies to develop mixed tenure developments funded by private finance, as well as introducing a new equity mortgage scheme (supported by the Government) to replace the existing jumble of confusing and ineffective schemes to promote wider, low-cost home ownership.

We also want to improve existing social housing. It is not enough simply to provide a home, we must also ensure a high quality of living for all. Authorities will be allowed to re-invest funds from Right-to-Buy sales into new social housing, with new homes integrated into mixed developments to diversify the housing stock. In addition, we would ring-fence the income from the Housing Revenue Account for local investment. This will provide the funding and flexibility required to create the comfortable, diverse and compassionate society that the Liberal Democrats envisage.

The solutions to the current shortages and unfairness of the housing ‘market’ don’t just demand more supply, but more quality and responsibility, too. That’s exactly what the Liberal Democrats’ ‘Homes for All’ policies are all about.

* Andrew Stunell is Liberal Democrat MP for Hazel Grove.

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7 Comments

  • Andrew Duffield 28th Feb '08 - 12:10pm

    Spot on Jock.

    It’s little short of tragic that after 100 years with the Liberal solution in our hands we continue to piddle about with a myriad of worthy initiatives which misunderstand the basic economics of the problem and ultimately exacerbate it.

    Unfortunately and predictably, the “Homes For All” paper is another sop in this regard. “We can build more than you can build” is a message lacking in credibility both in terms of numbers and timescale. There are a million empty properties right NOW that the market would immediately start turning into affordable dwellings at just the threat of the right tax incentive – LVT.

    Sure, there’s a place for Community Land Auctions and for Community Land Trusts, but they can’t and won’t deal with the massive existing waste in our housing stock and the need to rebuild current communties before we start building idealistic new “eco-towns” – an oxymoron if ever there was one.

    And while I’m on, let’s finally find the balls to ditch our fatal attraction for LIT – a policy guaranteed to ensure another big jump in house prices just as scrapping the rates did under Thatcher. LDYS had the right idea at their conference last year.

  • And where’s our housing spokesperson, Lembit, in all of this? Please let’s give this brief to someone who cares about it which Lembit patently doesn’t.

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