Wera Hobhouse MP writes…My housing priorities for the Budget

Tomorrow, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, will present his Budget to the House of Commons. He promises that housing will be the “number one priority”, but will he put the money where his mouth is?

People’s lives can no longer be dictated by a lack of affordable housing; whether to take a job, whether to start a family – many of these life-changing decisions are now overshadowed by the housing crisis. Access to housing is not a luxury, it is a human right.

To address the housing crisis, Liberal Democrats are calling on the government to include five priorities in the Budget:

Additional borrowing of over £100 billion to finance house building

If the government is serious about achieving 300,000 new homes a year, they must prioritise direct investment in house building. For far too long Britain has failed to meet the demand for new housing. Government intervention is now needed to help shift the market dynamics and spur development.

Empower local authorities to build more social housing

Almost two thirds of councils across England are struggling to find social tenancies for homeless people. To help address shortages, the government must remove the cap on council borrowing for house building and allow for suspension of the Right to Buy. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, has been quick to point the finger of blame at local planning authorities, but what steps will he take to put power back in their hands?

Help under-30s get a foot on the housing ladder

The younger generation are clearly bearing the brunt of the housing crisis. In my constituency, Bath, house prices are notoriously high and for most young people owning a house here is little more than a pipe dream. To give people the opportunity to move out of the private rented rector and put down roots, I would like to see new “Rent to Own” homes where every monthly rent payment goes towards owning a house outright.

Tackle homelessness head on

The single biggest cause of homelessness in England is the loss of an assured shorthold tenancy, which usually lasts 6 to 12 months. England must follow Scotland’s lead by promoting longer tenancies and increasing security for private renters. Furthermore, the government must reintroduce housing benefits for 18-21 year olds to provide a vital safety net and prevent more young people falling into homelessness.

End “Buy to Leave Empty” practices

To address inequalities in access to housing fierce taxes are needed on the overseas purchase of UK property that is bought to be left empty and council tax on second homes should be doubled. The aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy has highlighted the injustice of vulnerable families left homeless and unable to find affordable homes locally, while surrounding investment properties lie empty. This is entirely unacceptable, given the current housing crisis all homes should be built for living in.

* Wera Hobhouse is the Member of Parliament for Bath. She is Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Communities and Local Government, and is on the Brexit Select Committee.

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  • Helen Dudden 21st Nov '17 - 10:17pm

    Yes Wera, house the homeless, also good programme getting people off drugs.
    Good mental care, there are more young people struggling with anxiety and depression, believe it or not complete breakdowns. Anorexia, and self harming.
    Society has lost its way in some respects.
    The NHS is another. The vast salary of the head of the university, everyone is talking about that subject.
    Making Bath a place for all, not just the tourist or students.

  • The party must really specify and flesh out what Vince means by overseas purchasers being hit with “fierce taxes” – must not deter proper investors that develop and then (within a reasonable frame of time) sell property off for profit. Boris Johnson suggested something eerily similar about taxing overseas purchasers recently and there is a real risk the party will look like it is engaging in the same boneheaded foreigner-bashing.

    Secondly, the 2015 and 2017 Manifesto called for councils to be allowed to double council tax on second homes -where and when they deemed it appropriate-. are you now suggesting that 200% council tax on second homes should be blanket enforced regardless, or what do you mean by “should”?

  • Helen Dudden 21st Nov '17 - 10:33pm

    I agree, there homes used only at weekends as holiday and then nights. The hen nights have caused issues. It seems awful to know, that there are so many in Bath very desperate for home and being forced to look elsewhere. You begin to lose the community and it becomes a sleeper city.

  • Graham Evans 21st Nov '17 - 11:11pm

    The 2011 census showed that about 1.5 million people had a second address in England and Wales that they use for 30 or more days per year. However, of these only 11% (165,000) were classed as holiday homes, so even if everyone one of these ceased to be used as a holiday home the impact on housing availability would be pretty minor once an initial surge was over – given the fact that the UK needs to build at least 250,000 properties a year for the next decade and beyond. It may be that in certain parts of the country there is a higher concentration of holiday homes and therefore higher council tax might have greater short term impact. However, even here the opportunities for avoidance are significant. As we know from our experience of the poll tax establishing residency at a property is quite difficult for local authorities to do, and the higher the council tax the more incentive there will be for people to exploit this fact. When it comes to tax and housing I’m afraid that contrary to its claims to believe in evidence based policy development, the Party is as guilty as others of resorting to populism to garner electoral support.

  • Graham Evans 21st Nov '17 - 11:18pm

    The reason why property prices are high in Bath is because of planning constraints on building in the surrounding area. Even with the investment programme now proposed by the Party unless much more land is made available on which to build property prices in Bath will remain high and beyond the reach of many young people. The Party cannot have its cake and eat it.

  • I applaud Wera for calling on the Chancellor to” put the money where his mouth is.”

    I would, however, echo Graham Evans comment that “When it comes to tax and housing I’m afraid that contrary to its claims to believe in evidence based policy development, the Party is as guilty as others of resorting to populism to garner electoral support.”

    The Housing Crisis requires radical attention. Less than 6% of UK Land is developed as this BBC analysis shows http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41901294. Over 90% is agricultural and natural woodlands etc.

    The inflated cost of urban land together with underutilisation of the existing housing stock lies at the heart of the crisis.

    We need to address our policy program on this issue as a matter of urgency – pushing ahead with tax policies that incentive both the release of land for development and making it easier to downsize after children have left larger family homes freeing up under-occupied residences.

    Capturing the uplift in Land Values from grant of planning consents for residential development of agricultural and industrial land can finance local authority acquisition of land and infrastructure development for social housing. Municipal bonds securitised on social housing rents can finance major social housing construction programs.

    Buy to rent programs can be based around ground rent of leasehold serviced building plots from local authorities on which housing can be built (or prefab housing placed) financed by private mortgages. Taking out the cost of land from house purchases can dramatically reduce the cost of housing for first-time buyers with established ties to a local area.

  • Graham Evans 22nd Nov '17 - 8:42am
  • Stop the right to buy scheme. It was only ever designed to buy Tory votes and it reduces the public housing stock. It also introduces a significant amount of money into the housing market once the original purchaser moves on. I’m not an economist but surely this would also inflate house prices?

  • @Graham Evans
    Living in the South West I couldn’t agree more. The only caveat would be for those properties that were designed to be holiday homes, for example where permanent residence is precluded through the lease / license.

  • Richard Underhill 22nd Nov '17 - 9:02am

    Architects are into prize-giving at the moment. Grand Designs House of the Year on Channel 4 at 21.00 on 21/11/2017 is part way through the series. Five houses per programme, some eccentric, some with large cost overruns, but look at the houses in Norwich. Designed for part ownership by the council or as starter homes to buy. Spacious and most importantly ON BUDGET. Also in the ‘local vernacular’ so that they are unlikely to get adverse comments from potential neighbours at the planning stage.
    The programme also shows what can be done with difficult sites and semi-derelict properties. ” New House” was just a name on a map, but previous occupation for housing helped with the planning permission.
    In a previous programme the presenter Kevin McCloud turned developer and built a street of social housing in Swindon, using the two cheapest colours of roof tiles, but had them laid alternately to give a speckled effect.
    On the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday the Chancellor mis-spoke. We will see whether he proceeds with Nick Clegg’s proposal for new towns in the home counties, as vetoed by David Cameron on the basis that “they will all vote Labour”. ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ was talking about the risk of job losses associated with new technology and referred contemptuously to a million shorthand typists. He should be more careful if he wants to keep in touch with reality. Shorthand typists were a skilled elite of typists and therefore a small proportion, but there are several shorthand languages, so if one has used Pitmans another would need to be skilled in Pitmans in order to read and transcribe. Most typists in typing pools were doing copy typing from paper to paper, some had audio, but that required discipline from the dictators.
    Copy typing still happens as original documents are submitted electronically and amendments come back on paper, except for letters to MPs which have tight deadlines.

  • With private pensions being so useless at the moment one other idea would be to allow pension savings to be invetested to build social housing wit the housing association / LA acting as the management company. This could reduce the cost of building the home sto the state whilst giving a decent return to the pension pot. I would love to invest my SIP funds into such a scheme…

  • Richard Underhill 22nd Nov '17 - 9:14am

    Pushing up house prices in Bath by refusing planning permission was a deliberate policy of a previous, presumably Tory, council. Terraced housing for posh people on curved roads had been damaged by war time bombing. Similar designs now exist in Paddock Wood, Kent, except that the narrow frontage needs to contain a garage and the front door presumably leads onto a staircase to the upper floors.

  • Helen Dudden 22nd Nov '17 - 10:19am

    There is some very expensive housing being built. I know personally the property price in Bath is extremely high as with those forced to rent. Students are complaining scourge high of blocks that cover the city. What ever was the reason, prime land given to student housing.

  • Helen Dudden 22nd Nov '17 - 10:20am

    It should have sky high, spell got there first.

  • William Fowler 22nd Nov '17 - 11:55am

    You need to let householders build one bed houses in their gardens, exempt from capital gains tax etc and planning constraints as long as they are within height restraints of surrounding properties and would have to be eco friendly (including no car parking)… yes, people with property would get richer but it would expand the housing market and the elderly could move from large house to small house whilst staying in an area they like. Zero cost to the government (I would not let builders recover VAT costs in this case) and would only allow allow prefab ecohouses built in UK to help domestic jobs etc.

  • William Fowler 22nd Nov '17 - 11:58am

    Helen, surely the solution is very cheap or free public transport for historic centres such as Bath to new towns (and decent cycle paths) rather than turning it into a socialist paradise with endless cheap tower blocks etc.

  • Graham Evans 22nd Nov '17 - 1:35pm

    @ William Fowler: It depends on what you class as a town. To my mind a town needs to be self supporting in terms of shops, basic heath facilities, primary schools, etc. This probably involves a minimum population of 20,000. Anything less than this is merely a big commuter village. Moreover, I see little point in artificially separating new neighbourhoods from existing communities. Provided there is plenty of public open space and good internal public transport included in the developments then extending the boundaries of existing towns is a better option ecologically than encouraging commuting from further afield. Moreover the public open space can be much better managed from an ecological perspective than much farmland. After all , towns like Bath were once allowed to grow naturally. Had this not been the case they would not today have the facilities which make them so attractive.

  • David Evans 22nd Nov '17 - 2:18pm

    Graham, as you say “Provided there is plenty of public open space and good internal public transport included in the developments.” I haven’t see those in planning applications in decades.

  • Richard Underhill 22nd Nov '17 - 6:17pm

    Labour MPs quoted the OBR at length but completely missed the point about stamp duty for first time buyers, which is that they do not need to pay it. Try asking a bank or building society to lend so you can pay stamp duty and they will say that you are asking for an unsecured loan or a mortgage above 100%.
    Some consequential upward pressure on house prices, as per OBR, is obviously correct, the same thing happened with mortgage tax relief.

  • Graham Evans 22nd Nov '17 - 7:23pm

    @David Evans This is why I favour the Civitas report suggesting LAs should have the ability to buy land at existing use prices and then control the details of the subsequent development. While I don’t consider Harlow new town a great example in terms of the architecture of the housing, the extensive public open space which was provided was only possible because the development was under the control of the New Towns Commission. It is significant that the more recent developments, for which the owners of former agricultural land were paid full residential market value, while arguably more attractive in terms of housing design, if hardly particular special, includes little or no additional public open space. In fact there was at one time pressure to build on the original open spaces simply because development was not allowed beyond the existing boundaries of the district. Allowing the town to expand into the adjacent district of Epping Forest Council would have been a much better option, and still is.

  • Richard Underhill 22nd Nov '17 - 7:28pm

    Bath contains a lot of stone buildings, we should not be obsessed with building with small bricks. Avoid the winter weather, build indoors in factories.

  • Helen Dudden 23rd Nov '17 - 11:37am

    I would dislike the idea of tower blocks, but I could see a use for temporarily housing in a flat pack type of construction. There are many ideas on the market. We have to be inventive. Much better than the concept of temporarily putting families in a hostel situation. I would live in it. They did this after the war, I can remember the last of them, they were much loved.

  • Neil Sandison 24th Nov '17 - 1:36pm

    Steve Way couldnt agree more .it is a form of ethical investment that should be promoted by the party .

  • Richard Underhill 6th Dec '17 - 12:12pm

    Some hospitals have land that could be used for residential accommodation for nurses and other medical staff. It has happened in the past. It happens in Jersey. The land may be contiguous with the hospital, but does not need to be. Imagine a nurse who drives to work, comes home I the small hours of the morning and cannot find anywhere to park.
    This brings us onto driverless cars, which will reduce the need for car parking on the street and reduce the number of new houses being built with garages or double garages. Motoring journalist Quentin Willson appeared on the Daily Politics on 4/12/2017 to disagree with what the Chancellor had said in the budget. Quentin Willson agrees that manufacturing lots of driverless cars will create lots of jobs. He disagrees with a timetable with a tight deadline while the technology to implement it has not been developed yet, although “all” (most?) manufacturers are working on development now. He drove a Tesla saloon, widely available in the UK, which includes a “Summon” option. This would appear to mean that an empty car can be summoned to your home base or present location electronically, with implications for bus services and taxi / UBER services. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quentin_Willson
    Please note that Quentin Willson is not a political journalist. If he were he might be more used to ambitious deadlines not being met. Sometimes they are set to stimulate the commencement of action amd need to be followed up.

  • Richard Underhill 6th Dec '17 - 12:14pm

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