Housing was supposedly the centrepiece of this week's budget with the homelessness crisis deepening every day. Unfortunately, the measures announced barely scratch the surface of the problem - and some of the measures may make the situation worse.
Yes, we can welcome moves to combat the practices of using homes as a money store that has led to many homes deliberately left empty and of land-banking where land with planning permission is traded multiple times, often over long periods of time, before building starts. But, in the end, the government are continuing with policies that are feeding the housing bubble.
In the past, housing benefit bought more social housing. Now it goes into landlords’ pockets. Time now to build future-proof social housing and use the rents to recreate the virtuous cycle.
At the moment, we have a system by which the government commands and ‘bribes’ local councils to build. This leads to councils taking the line of least resistance by using green fields and big property companies.
Here in the High Peak, a development of 107 houses on beautiful green fields rewards the council with almost £500,000 of government money. The land is saturated; the vehicle access is almost impossible; the town is already gridlocked; local primary schools suffer from increased pollution levels.
The land is passed by 100s of walkers on long distance footpaths and the amenity loss is huge (ancient trees, bats, owls, insects, butterflies, deer, foxes...). The houses are 3/4 bedroom, of the type that maximise developers’ profit. There are a few ‘affordable’ houses tagged on, but many developers seem able to ditch these. The houses are not built to an energy efficient and carbon neutral standard (Passivhaus). So, more houses are built, but they leave a toxic legacy.
Since we have an enormous problem of visible and invisible homelessness:
Why are the government pushing a policy where only a tiny fraction of houses built will be truly affordable by those in the greatest need?
Why does housing policy tie the hands of local authorities to provide for the needs of their own areas?
Why are we not building to standards that will provide energy efficiency and carbon neutrality as many face fuel poverty and we are all threatened by climate change?
Can we end the knee jerk reaction and build housing which meet the current needs of local communities and does not jeopardise the future? Where the houses are rented, let us use that money to build more sustainable housing.