Seldom a day passes without a call for the Conservatives to make housing a priority. Often this is linked to another much raised theme in the Party – the lamentation about the failure to capture a higher share of the “youth vote”. In fact home ownership has become such a struggle that it is not only a concern amongst the young. The average age of a first time buyer is 32.
Yet the aspiration for home ownership remains very strong. This is a deeply held and well established ambition of those with a Conservative outlook and it proves that huge numbers of younger voters who voted Labour at the General Election this year have their hearts in the right place.
The Sun today reports that:
“Ruth Davidson has warned that capitalism could be defeated if governments do not act to build more homes. The Scottish Tories leader called for tens of thousands of new houses to be built in a desperate bid to prevent the public turning against free markets. She added that without a revolution in housing, Britain’s economy will become dominated by a small group of wealthy older people. And she claimed that prospect risks delivering the country into the hands of anti-trade “populists” like Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn.”
While in the Daily Telegraph, Lara Prendergast writes:
“Thanks to social media, it’s easy to communicate with potential members, as Labour has shown. The Tories could do the same. They could reinforce that they are the party that supports entrepreneurship and individualism. They could reclaim their mantle as the party of home ownership. They could add more youthful faces into the higher ranks, and they could at least try to seem comfortable with modernity.”
I haven’t seen any dissent. So far as I can gather, all Conservatives are agreed, in principle, on a “revolution” in housing, with it becoming a “priority” and “radical change” being accepted. There may be political risks in being bold – for instance in getting changes through the House of Commons – but the risks of caution are surely greater.
In her speech Davidson talked about a “market failure” in housing. But the failure is due to the lack of a market. In a market the supply increases to meet the demand. State intervention prevents this from happening when it comes to housing. But she went on to identify the planning system as the critical culprit. It manages to both prevent enough new homes being built while determining that new buildings are usually ugly – thus motivating resistance to their construction.
“Housebuilders complain that there isn’t enough land available to build and are being deterred from doing so by a planning system that is almost designed to thwart investment.”
“To be clear, I am not talking about taking planning control out of the hands of local authorities and local communities. This is about national government providing the strategic direction that allows local communities to press ahead. It could restore trust in new housing.
“Earlier this week, the director of Shelter, Polly Neate, said that nimbyism in the UK was often caused because communities don’t feel listened to – and because too many new homes are ugly or unaffordable.
“She has a point.
“So – in building new homes – we need to ensure that people’s views are heard – and ensure that new developments add something to our natural environment.
“And we need genuine national leadership which makes clear that new development is about making Scotland more beautiful…that we aren’t going to accept new building that is dumped down carelessly – but instead that we are going to build with people in mind.
“That is the way to restore faith and overcome peoples’ understandable concerns about new developments.”
As she says “the planning system has it all the way wrong. All construction is prohibited and you cannot build unless and until you have permission to do so.” There should be a presumption to allow development if the “design of a property” is good. Those are the right principles.
What is missing is the resolve – in Scotland and the rest of the UK – to release far more public sector land for the development of attractive, traditional terraced housing and mansion squares. Until the Government does far more to tackle state land banking the constant protestations about wishing to help more people get on the housing ladder is mere rhetoric.