Cutting public spending is never popular, and UK chancellor George Osborne has already been wounded by criticism of his proposed cuts to tax credits. To sugar-coat the bitter pill of his Autumn statement, Osborne has promised billions towards the ‘starter home’ scheme floated at last year’s party conference. The scheme, say Osborne and prime minister David Cameron, will kick-start a building programme in Britain such as we have not seen since the Second World War.
The government is right to point to a burgeoning housing crisis. For the past 10 years at spiked, we have warned that not enough homes are being built. It is only recently that others have woken up to the disaster of Britain’s failure to meet the demand for housing.
Still, every year we don’t come close to building enough houses. Just to preserve Britain’s ageing housing stock would mean building around 200,000 houses a year. To meet the additional needs of population growth and pent-up demand, we need many more – closer to 400,000 a year. The chancellor says we need 400,000 new homes, but this is stretched over a four-year period until 2020. Four-hundred thousand is the highest annual build ever in Britain (under Labour minister Richard Crossman in the Sixties). But over the past 20 years, housebuilding has hovered between 100,000 and 140,000 units a year.
The argument over whether we need more homes is over now – or at least it ought to be. Spiralling house prices, overcrowded family and shared homes, subdivision of tenancies and the growing numbers of homeless all prove the real demand for housing in Britain.
Ministers have offered to kick-start new housebuilding many times before, as Grant Shapps and Eric Pickles did, and as Gordon Brown and John Prescott did before them. But each modest proposal for an increase in housebuilding was shot down by a general dread of development. Environmental activists joined hands with the Tory shires and the stockbroker-belt to resist new building long before proposals ever arrived. In the same way, the municipal authorities’ planning departments choked the life out of building schemes before they were even drafted.