The failure of Britain to met its housing needs and offer young people the aspiration of a home of their own has been highlighted today with the release of figures showing that the number of rough sleepers in England has surged by 23%. Britain’s failure to plan for the future is seeing its young people forced onto the streets, committed to sofa surfing with family and friends and forced into expensive overcrowded poor quality private housing.
The Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government has failed to get a grip with one of the most pressing issues in Britain today and that is housing the population. It was hard to believe that any other government could make a worse job of housing than the last Labour government but the coalition has proved to be even worse than the Labour Party.
The current government is very good a talking about tackling issues but it has no ability to turn talk into action. Housing is a national disgrace and needs to be tackled. Around the world the developing nations are building high quality affordable housing while in the UK we are going backwards. housebuilding has hit record lows under the coalition while immigration has increased to levels even higher than under the last Labour government.
House prices in relation to earning are still increasing making homes even less affordable to many. Low interest rates are maintaining house prices at unaffordable levels and failure to deal with the planning regulations are stopping houses from being built.
The government needs to stop talking and start acting. We’re now approaching the 2nd year anniversary of the government and the only noticeable policy is that of differing and U turns. It’s headed by one of the weakest Prime ministers we’ve had for a generation or more who flips and flops from one fad to the next looking for nothing except photo opportunities. President Obama was being generous when calling David Cameron ‘a bit lightweight’. Featherweight is probably a more apt description of his convictions.
The time has probably come for Grant Shapps MP to be replaced. He’s failed in his job as housing minister and although I think he comes across as a nice enough guy it is obvious that as time goes on he does not have the ability to tackle the issues that need to be confronted and overcome. You can not be a housing minister and oversee a rise in 23% of rough sleepers and be considered suitable for the job. Clearly someone who is much more able needs to be put in charge of the housing department.
The government really does need to wake up and start to tackle this issue otherwise the UK will not just have a generation without jobs but the country will also have a generation without a home. We’ll have a generation who does not have any understanding of stability and community as they are moved from one hostel or bedsit to another. They’ll be well into middle age before they start to put down roots – remember that under 35’s are now expected to live in a house share rather than having a flat of their own even if they a working for minimum wage as no help is provided to the poorest workers towards their housing costs.
Unless a massive house building project begins immediately there is a real risk of social breakdown in Britain.
The country is in desperate need of politicians who are willing to take responsibility and take action. We need the planning reforms fast tracked through ASAP. We need to revoke the village green legislation to stop NIMBYs using it as another way to put young people onto the streets by stopping housing estates being built.
As much as I support the HS2 line the country has to shift that money away from the line and into house building. The UK is short of 1 million homes and that figure is getting worse each year. There is a real argument that the money set aside for HS2 should be used to build 2 brand new towns of 500,000 houses each. These two new towns need to be built using the latest energy efficiency and low impact technologies.
Urban landscape level sustainability needs to be built into these two new towns – water capture, transport, high capacity electricity for electric cars, nature integration should be designed into the towns at townwide planning levels.
The government needs to open up new land for development and tackle the developers who buy up land and then sit on it to maximise their profits. Local authorities need to be given the power to set timelines on planning applications and if the developers fail to complete projects then penalties need to come into play. If housing proposals are not started within a set period of time – eg 2 years – then the planning permission should be removed from the land and assigned to another developer. If a developer drags their feet over completing developments or overpricing the houses to stop them being sold then they should be held responsible for paying the council tax on the property.
Local authorities need to be made responsible by law to ensure that housing needs in their areas are met. If they fail to ensure that enough houses are built for local demand then they need to be put into special measures and assigned a civil servant to oversee that those needs are met.
Green groups and objectors need to be made responsible for legal fees associated with failed objections and judicial reviews and they need to be charged the full cost of the legal action including that of the local authority or developers. We cannot continue to have one or two people holding up development because it does not cost them anything to slap in a village green scam application to stop development.
The time has come for the coalition government to stop posturing and actually start to take action to provide the homes that this country urgently needs.