Tories plan to build fewer homes, reward bad landlords
I've just read the Conservative Party's Green Paper on Housing. Housing policy is a vitally important issue, affecting the lives of millions of people. It is arguably nearly as important an issue as one politician sending an e-mail to another politician with gossip about some other politicians. It is also quite stunningly awful.
The green paper says that we need to build more houses. It then lists a range of policies designed to reduce the number of houses which will be built. Councils will no longer be required to build a certain number of houses (because this is central targets and is bad), it will be easier for councils to prevent developments (e.g. by designating land as green belt or stopping eco-towns), and opponents of housing developments will have more opportunities to try to stop housing developments in their backyard.
But more houses will be built, because The Market Will Provide. The Planning Delivery Grant which allocated £510 million to local councils will be scrapped, and instead the money will be used to give councils an amount equal to the council tax for the property for each new house built in their area.
So the way to build more new houses, according to the Conservatives, is to allocate the same amount of money in a different way to local councils, while making it harder for developers to build houses. And instead of lots of nasty flats being built, this will also result in larger houses suitable for families being built, with gardens, and a pony.
On page 8, the paper "proves" that the building of flats cannot have been a reaction to market demand because an opinion poll found that half of people aspire to live in a detached house, and only 3% in a flat. This is a point that only even begins to make sense if you believe that unregulated markets always deliver the goods and services which people would like to receive, and ignore the fact that converting family houses into flats has been an extremely profitable activity for quite a number of people over the past few years. And if you believe that in this day and age, I've got a Credit Default Swap that you might be interested in.
Moving on, there are pages of drivel about social housing and dependency, and a consistent confusion between homelessness and rough sleeping, but the private rented sector merits only a brief mention (page 34). It praises the role of private landlords and claims that the Conservatives will look to see how the burden of regulation on them can be eased.
This is interesting because it is an example of the Conservatives sticking up for the rich (buy-to-let landlords) against 'Middle England' (the people who suffer from bad landlords who are only interested in making a profit, regardless of the effect on the area). Not all landlords are like that, but you can guarantee that the Conservatives won't be publicising this policy in marginal constituencies where there are high levels of multiple occupation housing - as it is absolute political poison with private tenants and home-owners alike.
Taken together, these two policies reveal a lot about the Conservative approach. There is a desperate need for more housing, but the effect of their policies will be to reduce the number of homes built, causing more misery and suffering. They place their faith that less regulation and leaving things to the market will magically solve problems, in defiance of the evidence. And the only group of unpopular people who they are prepared to stick up for and shower with praise are those that spent most of the last decade enriching themselves at the expense of local communities.