Dr Spencer Whitfield is the Director of Conservative Trade Unionists
There are too many families in Britain who want to buy a home of their own – but are currently priced out of the market. It is one of the great social problems of our age, and we must rediscover the Conservative Party’s historic support for housebuilding if we are firmly establish our position in the centre ground of British politics today.
In the nineteenth century Benjamin Disraeli made it a priority to clear the Victorian slums and fund new housing and sanitation for ordinary British workers. Later, in the twentieth century’s post-war years, Harold Macmillan was called upon by Winston Churchill to build a record amount of houses for the people. As Housing Minister he oversaw the building of an average of over 300,000 homes per year – an extraordinary achievement by any set of standards.
More recently there has been a number of very encouraging signs that we are moving in the right direction. News that the Government will employ direct commissioning to build thousands of homes should be greeted with much enthusiasm. These are homes for working families across the country and will contribute to a wider strategy of housebuilding and home ownership – and importantly, they will be homes that people want to live in.
The policy of using direct commissioning in areas such as Old Oak Common in London, Dover’s Connaught Barracks, and Lower Grayling Well in Chichester will see the development of affordable homes that hardworking families can call home. By fast-track building on publicly owned sites, we will see part of what must be a broad solution to the housing needs of the nation.
This approach was famously used by Thatcher and Heseltine to transform the Docklands area of London in the late 1980s. Anyone who works or lives in that part of London now – or enjoys visiting it – can see how effective it has been in constructing a modern urban area that people want to spend time in.
Announcing the policy, David Cameron said: “Nothing like this has been done on this scale in three decades – government rolling its sleeves up and directly getting homes built.”
Likewise we have to make use of brownfield sites while protecting where possible the green spaces that we all love and want to preserve. As such it is welcome news that the Government has made £1.2bn available for the building of 30,000 affordable starter homes over the next five years – all on underused brownfield sides with great potential. The regeneration of many so-called “sink estates” through a £140m fund will also contribute to a solution.
Besides these policies, and the ongoing effectiveness of Right to Buy and Help to Buy, the Government’s Housing Bill will ensure that housing is front and centre of the Party’s one nation strategy.
Starter homes and self-builds will be given the support they need, while Housing Association tenants will have the Right to Buy their own homes. Rogue landlords will also be tackled – which is a bold step that will create more fairness for tenants. This is a truly Conservative bill and one that shows to the public that Conservatives can and will deliver good homes, affordable homes, for all hardworking families in our country today.
Labour didn’t exist as a major political party in Disraeli’s day, and when Macmillan was Housing Minister the Conservatives had seemingly beaten Labour on their ‘own’ housebuilding political territory. Indeed, today we must rediscover the drive to build “humble homes”, as Macmillan termed them, and work towards a genuinely broad property-owning democracy – managing in the process to show the public that only the Conservatives can deliver social justice in the form of affordable housing.
As we move forward we must learn from the great Conservatives of the past – Disraeli, Macmillan and Thatcher – and make sure that their priority of good affordable housing for the people is also our priority today. George Osborne famously announced in his conference speech last year that “we are the builders.” The importance of following that rhetoric up with real policy cannot be understated.
In order to achieve this we will no doubt have to take difficult decisions – not least the need in certain areas of the country to release green belt land for development – but unless we rediscover our historical ability to provide quality and affordable homes for all our people, we will never truly secure the centre ground of British politics.