Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling was among the senior figures calling for a radical policy shift in housing at the RESI conference, held this week at Celtic Manor.
Interviewed by the BBC’s home editor, Mark Easton, Darling said: “Unless government takes a more active role in ensuring more housing is delivered, it simply won’t happen. In the post-World War II period it became a badge of honour for governments to talk of how many houses they’d delivered – we need that driving commitment again.”
Darling admitted that the Labour government in which he served for 13 years was as responsible as any recent government for the slippage of housing from the top priorities of government. “There was so much focus on health and education we didn’t see it as a priority. A government can only realistically focus on a couple of major policy areas at a time. John Prescott was keen, Tony (Blair) less so.”
He pointed to the London housing crisis, where large tranches of the city region are now unattainable at realistic rent or purchase levels for many people, forcing people further out, as illustrative of governmental failure to act.
“You see the new towers springing up in areas like Vauxhall, and they look great – but there are just a handful of lights on at night. There is a market failure that has been going on for 30 years.
“Government can take a more active role – they can borrow much more cheaply than the private sector can. If you look at the Green Investment Bank, that has had some success working in its specific field, and something similar for housing seems a perfectly sensible thing to do.”