Nadhim Zahawi is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and MP for Stratford On Avon.
Owning your own home provides a route to lifelong security for you and your family that cannot be underestimated. You have a roof over your head, and preserving it only depends upon you – not on the whim of a landlord you may have only ever have heard of through a letting agent.
Each month you pay off a bit more of your mortgage, and contribute to your financial wellbeing in later life. Every payment gives you more of an incentive to build links to your neighbours, your road and your community. There are few better ways to achieve the Conservative vision of a better society than boosting home ownership.
This is why the dream of home ownership has to be open and affordable to as many people as possible. The benefit it provides is stability: stability in communities, stability in people’s lives and stability in finance is real, and key to building a better Britain.
It is a shame that the current housing market has made these benefits so difficult for many to attain. It is a classic example of how Government intervention in the market is needed, both to increase the number of homes being built, and to make them more affordable for ordinary people. This necessity was well recognised by David Cameron, and it is why his Government brought in such important measures as extending the Right to Buy for Housing Association tenants, and the creation of the various strands of Help to Buy.
Although building is key, it cannot be at any cost. We must always seek to protect our beautiful countryside. I am particularly aware of this need as the representative for the constituency of Stratford on Avon. I spend much of my time driving around this beautiful, rural constituency that has so much to preserve, whether the historical centres of Stratford itself; Alcester or Henley in Arden; the sweeping countryside that rolls to the edge of the Cotswolds, or the picturesque villages in between.
We must preserve our history and our beautiful countryside – but we must also continue to find places to build homes where people can live. There has to be a balance. That’s why I was delighted to see 2017 begin last week with a series of announcements from the Department for Communities and Local Government on housing. Beginning the year with a burst of activity from DCLG only serves to underline the importance of this issue, and gives a real sense of the priority ascribed to it by Theresa May’s Government.
The first announcement was of Government support to achieve the full capacity of sites for 14 new garden villages, and three more garden towns – including a new garden village in Long Marston, within my own constituency. The important aspect of this announcement is not just that the Government is providing extra funding for the creation of these homes, but that they are supporting locally-led proposals rather than the imposition of measures by central Government. Together with other garden towns, these developments have the combined potential to provide almost 200,000 homes across the country.
This was followed by the news that this year would see the first Starter Homes being built across the country, providing first-time buyers between 23 and 40 years of age with a discount on a property of at least 20 per cent below market value. Not only does this make so much more housing so much more affordable for first time buyers, but these homes will be built on brownfield sites – ensuring that pressures on our green fields are reduced.
The final announcement of the week was that £7 billion of funding will be unlocked in a huge expansion of the Government’s affordable housing programme. This funding will allow Housing Associations build more homes in the places that they’re most needed, and to offer them with a variety of renting models. These include rent to buy and shared ownership, which empower those who are struggling to get by a foot on the housing ladder, and help them to save up for a deposit to buy the home, or increase the percentage of the property they own.
Taken together, these policies show the efforts that DCLG and the Government more widely are making to ensure that more homes are built, that they are more affordable, that our green spaces are protected and that developments are locally lead. All this seems to represent by far the most sensible plan to improve housing provision in the United Kingdom, and Ministers should be applauded for their efforts. I look forward to seeing the fruit of their labour.