Tom Harwood is a journalist and commentator. He is a senior reporter at Guido Fawkes.
The housing crisis is real. It stunts young people’s progress and independence, drains pockets, breeds resentment, and helps twist one of the most entrepreneurial, go getting generations in history into a sulking blob of Labour voters. These are tangible societal ills that make the country worse for everyone. It is in the interest of all generations to put them right and fix this crisis, and a genuinely reformed planning system is the way to get there.
Housing demand is outstripping supply. That is blindingly obvious. Demand is high not simply through immigration, but because of longer lives, more split households, and even the fertility is up from its turn of the century trough. As, thank heavens, few are seriously suggesting a Swiftian Modest Proposal approach to dealing with the demand side of this equation, the answer has to lie with supply.
The housing market has been screaming for more building for decades with deafening price signalling, yet somehow something has got in the way. No one can deny that the money is there to build more houses. No one can deny that there is land to build more houses – indeed just 5.9 per cent of England is built on. When a concrete car park in North London is designated as ‘green belt’ land, and many genuinely green spaces are not, we know that something has gone horribly wrong.
That’s why yesterday’s White Paper for a planning revolution is so important. Under the plans for local zoning, actual communities will able to decide which areas are suitable for development (and which should be protected), as well as setting out local design codes to banish the kind of architectural atrocities that have given development such a bad name for so many people. New building in Bath should look like the historic buildings of Bath, not like soviet Stalingrad.
The Government’s plans, taking the cue from Sir Roger Scruton’s ‘Building Better Building Beautiful Commission, show that new development can be built beautifully. Proposals for almost automatic planning consent to be given to housing that fits community-approved guidelines will end the grotesque chaos of a multi-year objection-filled near impossible to navigate planning process bunging up a market that should be delivering.
Under the current broken system it’s largely only the big developers that are able to navigate the onerous red tape. The new zone proposals will take away their effective monopoly, allowing a genuine market to deliver for people.
One of the reasons behind Jeremy Corbyn’s surprising success in the 2017 General Election was a measurable surge from voters aged 25-45. In other words those who have to most contend with the nightmare of purchasing property. They were running to a false friend, but it’s easy to see why.
Over the last few decades, Tory after Tory has talked the talk on housing. They have recognised the electoral threat. Yet they have failed to deliver. “We are the builders” declared a triumphalist George Osborne at his party’s 2015 party conference. Just a couple of years later, an embattled Theresa May delivered a ‘Bricksit means Bricksit’ speech in front of a brick-painted lectern that at first-glace made it look as if she was standing in a chimney. At least the slogan letters didn’t fall of the wall behind her.
Yesterday’s new White Paper is materially different. It’s not facing the problem with the age-old erroneous approach of throwing around more taxpayer cash, or regulating away what little function the market already has. A complete overhaul of the system for the first time since the 1940s is what’s needed, and if this White Paper makes it in to law then this government may well have enacted the policy that delivers them a second term.