Our housing system is broken, according to Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State, but it’s been broken for years by my reckoning.
Now that we’ve acknowledged it, how do we go about fixing it? The person to do that is Mary Berry from the Great British Bake Off. Now, Mary is practical woman and she’ll start with her ingredients, which she will lay out neatly.
There will be flour – an essential ingredient in any form of baking. She will also have raising agents, such as baking soda or yeast, chocolate, eggs, and other bits and pieces.
The problem that successive governments have had is that they start with the minor ingredients, forgetting that flour is the essential ingredient without which you cannot proceed.
And what is the flour in the ‘broken housing building’ system? Simple, it’s land.
And we’re not Dutch, so we’re not making any more of it. And that’s where the recent Housing White Paper falls down. It does not robustly tackle this issue.
Instead it concentrates on the minor ingredients such as:
– Land hoarding by developers (a bit like Tesco refusing to sell beans);
– The slow planning system (it’s not getting planning that’s the problem, it’s sorting out the legal agreements – the so-called Section 106s – that takes the time);
– Lack of resources for Local Authorities (what’s new?);
– The need for more rented properties.
Governments have consistently failed to tackle the lack of flour – or land. Although the White Paper waves a stick at the Green Belt, the issue has not been tackled. Sure, there may be Green Belt reviews but they will need special circumstances.
And that’s going to take a while – probably taking us up to the election in 2020 – whoops. Now where’s the long grass?
Not that sprawling urban conurbation is the answer. However, the Green Belt itself is suffering from ‘creep’; the amount of Green Belt land has increased by 32,000 hectares since 1977. That’s enough for 160,000 new homes. Today, more of the country is Green Belt (13%) than is actually developed (11%).
And if we can’t have flour then we need baking soda or yeast, the raising agents. If we can’t go out, then we will have to go up. And then you’ll find the good people of Richmond objecting because any central London development will ruin their view of St Paul’s Cathedral.
So Mary, now that your colleague has bolted for the lucrative fields of Channel 4, your time has come as joint Housing Minister with Gavin Barwell, henceforth known as Bakewell.
Oh, and don’t forget the flour.
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