Happy Housing White Paper Day

Finally, after endless delays and tantalising briefings to favoured journalists, Sajid Javid MP finally unveiled what he promised to be a ‘revolutionary’, ‘bold’ and ‘ambitious’ plan to fix the country’s broken housing market.

So, much like on Christmas Day, I woke up early, eager to see what presents the Secretary of State would unveil to help deliver the Government’s target of 1,000,000 new homes by 2020.  I rushed downstairs, switched on the breakfast news and got a familiar feeling. You know the one. The one when you realise that Aunty Jean has bought a pair of socks for the seventh year running and you should really stop getting your hopes up that she will ever buy you anything bigger, better, bolder.

Far from an ambitious, new approach to housing delivery, the white paper contained a number of piecemeal initiatives that, whilst welcome, are hardly likely to transform the number of new homes delivered in the North West.

Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of the white paper is the acknowledgement by a Conservative minister that the Thatcherite dream of a home owning society might be a distant memory. Gone is the focus on helping young people onto the housing ladder. Gone is the emphasis on starter homes.  In its place is a greater focus on shared ownership, rent-to-buy and long-term rent.

In an era when the average house price is eight times the average salary, it is perhaps inevitable that a Government focused ruthlessly in the centre ground should look at ways to court voters who may have already decided that they will never be able to own their own home.

Yet it does strike me to be yet another missed opportunity. With opposition to new housing development halving since 2010 to 21% and support doubling to 56% according to the British Social Attitudes Survey, a radical re-think of how we make the best use of the land available to build the homes that we need could have caught the public mood.

As it stands, the policies contained in the white paper have the potential make our politicians feel that they are making a difference without changing very much at all. Here in the North West, the restatement of Green Belt protections, the Urban Regeneration Plan and the vague references to ‘strengthening the voice of local communities’ will not help our Combined and Local Authorities to take politically difficult, long-term decisions about the growth that our towns and cities need. Indeed, they may embolden those seeking to maintain the status quo.

So, happy Housing White Paper Day. I hope unlike at Christmas, you didn’t over indulge.

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