Housing is a basic human need but one which has become ridiculously expensive for all and quite impossible for some. Houses now command a price far above their build cost due to the restrictions of the planning system. Inflated property prices fuelled the consumer boom and once made Gordon Brown look good. However, not only was this unsustainable, but it was also morally wrong.
Young people cannot afford their first property, many buyers have over borrowed and a growing number of people cannot get a house in their own area. The problem is set to get worse with an estimated 2.7 million additional single households forecast over the next 20 years. The number of new houses completed in 2009 was less than half the number that the Barker report said we need.
In addition to planning restrictions other factors have driven up prices. Many people invested in buy to let properties, lenders offered overly extended mortgages and tax policies actively encouraged people to live apart.
Not only did first time buyers over-extend themselves to get on the property ladder, but many householders who saw their property prices soar were encouraged to take out new loans. The consequent recession has been catastrophic for many of these people.
This is not only an extremely serious situation, it is also quite unnecessary. The main objections to building on Greenfield sites, “shortage of land and damage to the environment,” do not stand scrutiny. There is no shortage of land as urban expansion accounts for only 0.05% of land use in any one year, or 1% over 20 years. Only 8% of land in Britain is urban, which is less than half that of the Netherlands and also less than Germany, Belgium or Denmark. On the environmental front, research clearly shows that low density housing with gardens is much better for biodiversity than plain farmland.
The biggest single impediment to house building is the planning system. Freeing up the supply of land would improve the supply of new homes, make them more affordable and benefit the environment.
"We now live in some of the oldest, pokiest and most expensive housing in the developed world." Unaffordable Housing Fables and Myths The Policy Exchange
Free-zones for development
The New Party would permit local authorities to designate certain areas as planning ‘free-zones’ wherein planning consent for house building will be approved so long as developments include adequate provision for new jobs. To reduce the need to travel, ease congestion, increase social cohesion and add to the quality of peoples’ lives, it would also make sense to provide custom built new towns rather than impinge on existing settlements.
The purpose of these measures is three-fold: first, to make it easier to get planning permission on suitable Greenfield sites; second, to link house building to locally-based economic development ; and third, to assist in the development of integrated communities whereby people are able to work locally. This will also reduce the need to travel, ease congestion and benefit the environment.
If we wish to maintain an adequate supply of affordable housing, then we must also stop thinking about houses as an investment which will always increase in value.
Selling off empty council properties
We also propose that local residents should be given the opportunity to purchase council properties that are left vacant for more than six months. The local authority would be compelled to put the property on the market upon receipt of a formal notice of interest unless one of the following conditions pertained:
- The property is currently in the process of being renovated or refurbished;
- The property is listed for demolition;
- The property has already been offered to prospective tenants;
- The applicant lives outside the local authority area;
- The applicant has already purchased a council house within the last three years.
The scheme would apply to single properties only.
More responsible lending
Finally, we would insist on more responsible lending practices including the requirement that mortgages can be given for no more than 90% of the value of a home. This, together with our proposals for freeing up the supply of houses, will help to prevent house prices becoming unsustainable.