This week, the Government launched its new housing White Paper for consultation, entitled “Fixing our Broken Housing Market”. I’ve always taken a great interest in housing and planning and that’s why in response to what I thought was an incoherent policy, resulting in too few good quality homes, I wrote my own housing policy for Peterborough in 2011.
Since then, we’ve moved away from building poor quality social housing for the welfare dependent, to a much more balanced mix of tenure, focusing on affordable homes for younger working people, with some specialised housing for those with special needs and the elderly.
Whilst I still disagree with the city council’s barmy plans to build 30,000 new homes in the next nine years in the city and worry about whether our local infrastructure can and will cope, I am however, broadly speaking, pro housing growth. Conservatives have always been committed to house building and home ownership. Now, however, we must look again to see if renting might be a viable alternative for people.
Infrastructure absolutely needs proper planning - so the Government’s £2.3 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund will help. Building the homes we need is possible. In the past few years we have seen annual house building starts increase by 30 per cent; almost 300,000 affordable homes built in England; and more people getting on the property ladder thanks to schemes such as Help To Buy and the reinvigoration of the Right to Buy in Peterborough and across the country.
However, an average home now costs almost 8 times average earnings. And, in 21st century Britain it’s no longer unusual for houses to “earn” more than the people living in them. Without help from the “Bank of Mum and Dad”, many young people will struggle to get on the housing ladder. As recently as the 1990s, a first-time buyer couple on a low-to-middle income saving five per cent of their wages each month would have enough for an average-sized deposit after just three years. Today it would take them 24 years!
So undoubtedly, our housing market is broken – because for decades we’ve not been building enough homes. That’s meant house prices growing faster than incomes and rising rents, hitting families across the country and especially young people.
We’ve been taking steps to turn this around since 2010. But there’s still a long way to go. That’s why the White Paper sets out ambitious, lasting reform that covers the whole of the house building process. From finding sites, to getting planning permission, and then actually building homes, the Government will take action so that it is easier, and quicker to get homes built in the places that they are needed most.
The problems we are dealing with have been around for decades, and they won’t be quick or easy to fix. But it can and must be done. The White Paper sets out a plan to do it – so that our housing market works for all.
Peterborough is one of the most affordable cities in England – but there is a housing crisis and the Government’s job is to lead the way in fixing it.