Tuesday, April 14, 2009

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.


At 7:06 pm , Anonymous Paul said...


Thanks for that v good summary - I haven't got it to it yet. I'm v interested in the private landlord good/social housing creates dependency ideas (is that why Council housing rents are being moved up above the rate of inflation to meet social housing rates?. I'll read in detail and revert.

Anyway -good stir back to proper policy on your part. I've been as guilty as the rest....

At 7:46 pm , Blogger Robert said...

Yes but Ms Flynn said the same thing did she not, social housing social dependency. My council which has been labour for donkey years, has not built a single bloody council house for guess what twelve years. So yes the Tories have nothing new to offer on social housing but then again neither has Labour.

At 9:25 pm , Blogger jdc said...

I was very optimistic when the Government said they were going to create a "National Tenant Voice". Then in the next breath they said it wouldn't represent you if you were a private tenant.

Thanks again, Government.

At 9:25 pm , Blogger jdc said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9:42 pm , Anonymous tim f said...

I started laughing as I read this, then I remembered the Tories have a chance of forming the next government and implementing it, and now I need a large whiskey.

At 10:08 pm , Anonymous Paul said...

Dan - i've had a look now.

You're right to pick out the 'incentives to reward development' as a key flaw. I don't know who'se written this but it smacks of schoolboy who's never engaged at local level about anything ever. Think through what's being (half) proposed and there's potential for blood on the streets here as residents argue with councillors that they shouldn't have to have houses built next to them just to bring additional cash into the council coffers. The author seems to have simply no idea of the difference between a local authority area of say 500,000 people and a street of say 200 people, and how the dynamics might just be a tadge different.

Further, if I read the confused English right, increasing the incentive in positive ratio to the size of the local authority waiting list is surely a financial incentive to keep the waiting list as high as possible, not to reduce it as is claimed, so militates directly against the supposed aspiration to build more affordable/rented homes. B- for wording, Fail for basic logic.

Then there's a killer at the end of this section. What 'ensure that the cumulative burden of these levies doew not undermine the economic viability of regeneration and development' actually means, I think it's clear, is that the Tories will limit/cap what Councils can negotiate with big developers from whom Section 106 monies are currently sought and (sometimes) willingly paid. So much for local discretion eh? Local as long as local doesn't get in the way of big businesses - I can see the lobbying that went on for the inclusion of that sentence for 200 miles away.

and that's just one page of it.....

I feel a monster blog coming on

At 11:57 pm , Blogger Jock Coats said...

Still - I'm quite pleased by 4.2.1 and 4.2.2

The current top down system is not working very well. In my visits to explain Community Land Trusts to various Oxfordshire town and parish councils they all, to my surprise, wanted more affordable housing - sometimes many times what had been allocated in "exception sites".

They quote the example of the High Bickington project in Devon, but it is notable that despite resident, parish, district and county council support for the idea it was still called in and overturned by the Secretary of State because it departed from the local, structure and regional plans.

The regional planning system might pretend to consult - in that districts have got to consult parishes and communities about where they would like housing, but when all these figures are aggregated up to regional level, they are handed back with a simple overall number per county and district to aim for, which then doesn't seem to refer back to the consultations from which the submission's numbers were originally derived and instead the plan bigger and fewer developments that do very little for the communities that said they wanted some more housing.

So you end up with local councillors in Thame crying out for more affordable housing to keep their community together, and what happens - they will actually find their residents being shipped out to Didcot or Bicester, making it all the more difficult to maintain informal community based caring structures (if granny doesn't drive, how's she supposed to nip round to look after the grandchildren if they've been moved twenty miles away and so on?).

Okay, so much of that is a criticism mainly applicable to more rural areas, and the problem, numerically at least, is more often in urban areas - but the rural areas are also, by and large, the areas of least affordability - lower median incomes and higher "chocolate box" village prices. But I remain convinced that vehicles such as CLTs can apply just as much to urban areas, and get existing communities rebuilding consensually, using land more efficiently, long before we actually need to build net new housing on net greenfield and out of town sites.

Despite it being largely developed by the co-operative movement (and indeed Labour and Co-operative MPs like David Drew is it in Stroud) it has yet really to set the Labour world on fire, despite having considerable support from Lib Dems, Tories and Greens amongst others (even the CPRE and other normally |NIMBY" regarded groups).

At 12:08 am , Blogger Newmania said...

There is a desperate need for more housing,

Because of the quintupling of immigration under New Labour ... 2,000,000 of the now forgotten 3,000,000 homes to be dumped on the South East , an area that loathes New Labour ,will be for the benefit of immigrants yet to arrive. Its a bit like a policy of settlement really .
If Labour cared about housing they would do something about the fact the population is swelling towards 70,000,000.

Do you see evidence around you that this is an under populated country ?

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,

Well no-one except New Labour thinks that for example the prefect way the market delivers the unemployed to Poland to take up jobs and start new lives which other than for Peter Mandelson is a non starter . It has been said for long time that the requirement of New Labour that Council houses be put everywhere forces developers to squeeze every last penny out of the remaining portion which have to be flats as houses will not have much value in the vicinity of the shiny new slums . I am not sure but the absence of family homes and the huge numbers of flats is a mystery .

PS What is wrong with a NIMBY I do not want my Town to turn into a dump.Is that bad thing ?

At 12:48 am , Anonymous tim f said...

I'm need to stop re-reading this and go to bed, but it is literally both stupid and evil.

On page 29, they actually suggest insecure tenancies in substandard housing WHICH THEY ADMIT IS UNFIT FOR KIDS to allow associations to make a profit by selling them during booms in house prices!

Amusingly they then point out that allowing people to live in unfit housing then turfing them out the moment it's inconvenient "requires no new funding".

But don't worry, because tenants will be able to stop the property being dangerous by improving it with their own cash, in return for which they'll be given "good behaviour points" and be allowed to demand their landlord house them in a less expensive house somewhere else.

Tenants play ping-pong while landlords and developers get richer and richer.


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