This is one of those articles where I’ll have to declare an interest, multiple interests in fact. The first as a local councillor of six years, who’s seen first-hand how decision makers have ducked big decisions and avoided making the strategic cases necessary to build housing. The second as a young person of 24 who dreams, like so many of my peers, of climbing the first rung on the housing ladder. The third as a Conservative who knows that if we want a society that works, then everyone needs a stake in their community – by renting or owning their own home.
The housing market isn’t just broken, it’s failed. Today Sajid Javid has launched the housing white paper to address this and bring sanity to a system that just doesn’t work. For too long successive Governments have tinkered around the edges of housing, now it’s time for radical overhaul – the clock is ticking to stop a generation losing out.
An important part of this white paper is the removal of the need for every area to have a local plan. This addresses the issue of areas that lack the political appetite to push through needed development, the expertise to ensure it works and the strategic sight to deliver housing, infrastructure and employment in tandem.
Too many local authorities, including in my part of the world, have ducked big decisions and this is a clear challenge from the Government to tell them to up their game. Building the housing our future needs should not be seen as a race to protect as much local land as possible, but as a partnership between multiple local authorities, developers, large employers and the Government. Working together and challenging one another, not adversarial as is traditional but as a partnership, is the way we will unlock the developments we need.
As we look to become more strategic, the Government does however need to look at how County Councils are given a stronger role in housing. At Essex we have already given a Cabinet Member a portfolio responsibility for housing – something the Government should embed into legislation as a statutory responsibility of county-level councils across the country. The days of housing being decided in isolation need to be over, it’s time to think bigger.
Developers can often be a central part of the problem – from land banking, to slow development and not following through on promises. This paper, and the surrounding rhetoric from the Secretary of State, is the strongest and most direct the Government have been with developers. Giving local authorities the power to order developers to finish developers in two years or lose their planning permission is a strong signal that developers who clog the system will not be tolerated.
However these powers do need to be used, and the Government does need to back up those councils who use them. Otherwise this risks being yet more rhetoric on fixing housing whilst people young and old fight to get their own roof.
Not as a councillor, but as a young person who aspires to get his foot on the housing ladder I urge the Government to follow through with its strong rhetoric, my fellow councillors to use their new powers to work together and deliver strategically, and developers to remember that these aren’t just houses, they’re homes.