Labour have published their review of housing policy by Sir Michael Lyons – it is a long document which contains many submissions from experts in the “sector”. Broadly speaking they have wasted their time. There is no big idea – not even a collection of small ideas. Greater priority to this, setting a review of that, letting the Housing Minister attend cabinet meetings…there is very little of substance.
However the language gives us some hints. There is a strong message of centralism. (Even though Cllr Ed Turner, the Labour deputy leader of Oxford City Council, was one of the grandly titled Lyons commissioners.) Labour would revert to top-down, Soviet-style central plan, telling councils what to do and where to build.
They would, it seems, restore the Regional Spatial Strategies. There would be a “national spatial assessment” and “a national spatial dimension” to Whitehall planning policy.
This would “be issued to local authorities to inform Local Plans and major developments” and would “identify opportunities for substantial housing growth”, “measures to address the economic imbalance between the regions” and “provide guidance on relationship between cities and their hinterlands…the guidance should provide a view on the extent to which housing need should be accommodated within a city and the surrounding areas. This would particularly be the case for the relationship between Greater London and the surrounding authorities in the South East”.
By contrast, the current Government’s approach has been to rely on incentives rather than compulsion.
The New Homes Bonus has been proving rather effective in getting more housing built. The Lyons Review complains it has “winners and losers” – councils that allow building to take place get the money, those that block any development don’t. Furthermore the review objects that there are areas where there are high house prices get extra rewards. But aren’t those the areas where there is the most demand for new homes and thus the greatest need to increase supply?
Then there is some mushy stuff in the Lyons Review over design.
It was interesting to see a reference to this MORI poll that more Londoners think that building fewer homes with higher design standard would be better, than building more homes with lower design standards.
But what is good design? Other polling has given us a pretty good idea of what the public think.
There was an endorsement from the Lyons Review of the “Building for Life” principles.
I interpreted those principles as favouring terraced housing or mansion squares rather than tower blocks.
What does Sir Michael think?
He doesn’t give a view on tower blocks in his 180 pages – perhaps it’s a bit controversial. He seems to fudge it by endorsing “Building for Life” winners – that include some hideous concrete monstrosities in Derby, Hendon and Nine Elms.
The best way to choose a good design for new housing would be to allow the existing residents in a community to choose. For it to be a real choice that would include a traditionalist and a modernist option.
But Sir Michael says:
“The LGA working with the HBF, RIBA and TCPA and others should establish a new kite mark for quality places reflecting the views of both original and new residents.”
So rather than a real choice, this modernist mafia – the Local Government Association, the House Builders Federation, the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Town and Country Planners Association – would be entrusted by a Labour Government to arbitrate. Rather than being given a choice, residents would have a scheme imposed upon them with a “kite mark” that supposedly reflected their views but was really implacably opposed to the type of housing most people wish to live in and to look out at. Pity that anti-establishment figure HRH The Prince of Wales – he is evidently to be excluded. The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community wouldn’t get a look in when it comes to the guidelines for design. Yet it’s approach it fare more in sympathy with the public than that of RIBA et al.
The Lyons Report reads as if it has been neutered. Anything tangible has been removed to avoid any political row. But it is not quite an irrelevance. If you read it carefully the mentality is clear enough. It is a backwards step. A reversion to the “man in Whitehall knows best.”
The planners would set targets for where we should live and what we should live in. The people are not to be trusted. That philosophy is not only an offence to those who believe in free enterprise, local democracy and individual choice.
It has also been shown to be a failure in getting the homes built that we need.