This week I was pleased to support the efforts of Cross Keys Homes in their efforts to provide more affordable housing in the Gunthorpe area. I don’t always agree with them and will always fight plans for unsuitable developments but they are one of the country’s best housing associations and are innovative in their approach, especially in focusing on the life chances of their tenants and taking a broader quality of life approach to young families in their properties.
Over and above the challenges arising from Brexit, I believe that the housing crisis is the most important political priority in our country and we must try to tackle it if we are to achieve the new Prime Minister’s aim of opportunity for all and the alleviation of economic and social inequality. The cost of housing, failures in the planning system and mass immigration have all had a big impact on the availability of good quality homes. Too many people have also been corralled into substandard private rented accommodation too, often at the mercy of a minority of greedy slum landlords.
Nationally, figures published last week by the Resolution Foundation show owner occupation rates in the last dozen years have plummeted from 71% to 64%. Having a real stake in your community and the future must not only be the dream of the ageing and the wealthy but all those who aspire to work hard, get on and pay their own way, irrespective of job, background or family circumstances surely?
For too long, we’ve also focused on providing publicly-funded homes for the workless and those on benefits rather than for younger working people and families who struggle to get a foot on the housing ladder. The lack of opportunity for young people in particular to own their own homes gives rise to intergenerational unfairness and resentment. Older people have of course worked hard to afford to buy their own homes but there’s no doubt that it’s much tougher for young people now to do the same now, relying as they do on the ‘bank of mum and dad’ and often having to wait till their mid 30s to buy their own home and invariably needing a huge deposit of say, £30,000 or more.
Things are changing in the city: One reason I launched my own housing policy back in 2011 is because there was a poverty of ambition in housebuilding in Peterborough and we were building to many ‘bog standard” homes, too few properties in the city centre area and too few high end homes to attract business owners, entrepreneurs and aspiring middle class folk who would drive jobs and prosperity in our area.
None of these things are now happening. Help to Buy has been a huge boon, we have a prestige homes policy, housing associations are strongly supporting shared ownership schemes, the quality of new homes has improved and the focus on the need for a strong local link by prospective tenants for municipal housing and the imperative of supporting new housing with appropriate infrastructure, is now much more to the fore. That said, some developers - they know who they - are still failing to provide proper landscaping and environmental improvements for estates they have built and are happy to walk away once they’ve sold their customers their homes.
Warning: I’m on your case and so will the government be very soon!
The new Housing Minister Gavin Barwell has a big job on his hands. There’s a lot to do – releasing more government land for construction, using the tax system to encourage more housebuilding, reviewing the Green Belt, liberalising the planning regime are just a few of his options to drive up construction rates.
Peterborough has led the way in the last few years and house prices in our area are much more affordable than in many parts of the UK but let’s keep focused on our efforts to extend the dream of a property owning democracy to everyone who desires it.