November 2020: News from your local MP

October 23 2020

We must build more homes

THE manifesto on which my party fought and won the 1951 general election stated:
“Housing is the first of the social services. It is also one of the keys to increased productivity. Work, family life, health and education are all undermined by overcrowded homes. Therefore a Conservative and Unionist Government will give housing a priority second only to national defence.”
Analysis shows that the 2010s saw the fewest new houses built in England since the Second World War, but the same could have been said for the 2000s, the 1990s and probably every decade before that for the past half century. The inability of governments in recent decades to address the housing crisis means that the laws of supply and demand push house prices ever higher. Locally, in Charlton Hayes, a new-build three-bedroom end-terrace house now fetches over £330,000, while a four-bedroom family home costs more than £400,000. In 1995 the average house price was £51,084, approximately 2.75 times the average annual salary of £18,500. Now, the average price is around £235,000, over 8 times the average annual salary of £29,000.
This is unsustainable. This crisis relates not only to the private sector but to the overall lack of housing, including council housing and social housing. We must consider the crucial value of social housing. It forms an indispensable part of our community and we need more so that all families can flourish.
The time has come for politicians to say “the buck stops here” and to get a grip on this problem. Too many of my colleagues have made a virtue of opposing much-needed housing development anywhere in our own areas. They have graduated from NIMBYs to BANANAs, who want to Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anywhere. When did it become the fashionable thing to side with those who want to pull the ladder up, rather than put people on it?
I have witnessed colleagues rejoice as housing supply plans for my local council area were consigned to the bin. These people seem oblivious to just what it is they have thrown out. This failure of political leadership at the local and parliamentary level will not do. It is no mere piece of paper and abstract plan that has been scrapped. For our younger generations, it could also be the chance to ever own their own home that is being ditched.In the post-war era, Britain faced a similar housing crisis, and a Conservative government solved it. Macmillan oversaw a programme that built 2.8 million homes in the 1950s and 3.6 million in the 1960s. That is the scale on which we have to act today. As the working-class son of immigrants, one of the many reasons I became a Conservative was because of the aspiration that our party promoted and believed in. Our party also understood the pride people took in home ownership. John Major, in his first speech to our party conference as Prime Minister in 1991, called it “the power to choose the right to own”.
What are we offering young people today? Some £50,000 of student debt and a room in a shared house if they are lucky. This problem will have deeper social consequences. Young people not being able to afford to live in the villages in which they grew up will lead to families being scattered. Those villages will find their services reduced, as bus services no longer make financial sense to the operators, demand for retail shrinks, and there aren’t enough employed people to support local businesses. Alternatively, some children may simply never leave home and live with their parents or grandparents well into middle age, which creates a very different social pressure.
Tim Bowles, the West of England Mayor, will shortly be putting his Spatial Development Strategy (SDS) out to public consultation, and I would encourage all of you to keep an eye out and take part. We are clearly faced with a situation in which difficult decisions are required, but it is imperative that we show leadership, at the Parliamentary, regional, and council level.
Housing unaffordability is shredding our social contract. We cannot expect young people to feel passionately about the advancement of a society in which they have no stake, and have no hope of sharing in the country’s present and future success. It is time for the Government to firmly grasp this nettle and tear it out by the root.