Larry Elliott suggests five steps to fix the housing market (Britain’s broken housing market – and how to fix it, 9 October) which include Kate Barker’s idea of “acquiring” large sites abutting urban areas at a modest premium to their existing use. That would effectively part-nationalise development value and might help supply, although the Tories wouldn’t do it because they reversed Labour’s two attempts at taxing development value, the Land Commission Act 1967 and the Community Land Act 1975/Development Land Tax 1976. Increased housing supply doesn’t automatically lead to lower prices of course (unless builders were to build at a rate that forced them to drop their own prices, which they wouldn’t) because, as Elliott says, the housing “market” isn’t a market at all in the traditional supply-and-demand sense.
Before more of this crowded country’s open space is concreted over and its amenity value taken from those abutting urban areas, other expedients could be deployed, like penal taxation of empty property and progressive taxation of inherited property wealth, the latter of which continues to snowball for the haves and push prices further beyond the have-nots. Those two measures would do more to bring prices back closer to a manageable multiplier of local earnings and improve the rising generation’s chances of ownership. Whether the banks’ loan books could stand the strain of falling prices – and how hard the Treasury would fight to avoid them – is another question.
• Larry Elliott’s incisive analysis of the housing market missed a trick or two. We urgently need to move jobs where the people are, not the opposite. That just inflates southern house prices. And please stop blaming planners. America realised 20 years ago that sprawl is not the answer to housing problems; it doesn’t lower prices, it just increases greenhouse gas emissions. The US smart growth movement’s growing influence demonstrates that compact urban development produces better housing and vibrant communities. Of course the big measure that would reduce house prices would be extending right to buy to the private rented sector – politically impossible, of course.
Smart Growth UK
• Analysis of possible solutions for fixing the housing market seem to overlook a key point: an understanding of what housing should be about – ie community. A home for our families, a roof over our heads and a secure base for the rest of our lives from birth to old age. We need less reliance on large builds by multimillion pound faceless corporations making huge profits, and more local planning in favour of self-builds to serve inter-generational families and communities. In France there seems to be a lot of one-unit building on the edge of villages and towns, often they appear to be small bungalows for the elderly. In the UK this is frowned upon. Second, we need to examine the way house prices soared when two full incomes became more the norm. This was a gift to those who benefitted from inflated housing values. It proved a disaster for households at the stage of raising children when (out of necessity) couples’ earnings go down to one and a half incomes or less, due to the need to meet important care responsibilities at home. It’s time to put families first and recognise that housing is a basic need. Let’s invest in construction of decent social “community” housing for young and old. Stop encouraging people to overstretch themselves. Only then will equilibrium be restored.
Elliott’s solution number five – the need to boost wages will, I fear, just mean forcing mothers and fathers to both work longer hours with no time to care for children or older relatives. This in turn means a house is no longer a home, just a place to sleep.
• Anna Minton’s concern about developers’ “artwash” is just the tip of an urban mountain of bling: “iconic”, “placemaking”, “cultural quarter”, the urban realm as theme park (Developers are using culture as a Trojan horse in their planning battles, 11 October). Meanwhile, city dwellers suffer chronic housing shortages, appalling air quality, gridlocked transport, increasing inequality and marginalisation. Why? Planners morphed into seeing cities as service centres, reflecting the shift since Margaret Thatcher to a service economy. Then Tony Blair brought the bling to the great neoliberal game, along with the expectation of remuneration. A whole generation of local politicians, responsible for taking bread-and-butter planning decisions, have grown up expecting to spread jam. They are too easily seduced by developers’ art-bling, even believing it ethical to join the revolving door of persuasively dazzling development consultancies. Perhaps the most egregious live example is at land secured for social housing at Coin St on London’s South Bank: Bjorn Ulvaeus’ application for an Abba nightclub is currently enjoying fair wind, following the collapse of the infamous garden bridge proposal on an adjacent site. The lessons from that debacle have yet to be learned.
Waterloo Community Development Group
• Your supplement Rebuilding social housing (20 September) described some of the efforts being made to fill the housing gap. All of these are to increase supply. With more than 300,000 immigrants per annum, a smaller number leaving, and with natural increase, there is no chance without addressing demand. We need more than to limit the number coming in to the country. The ideal would be a population policy with a cabinet minister responsible for population.
Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex
• Regarding “insulting” levels of “affordable” housing at a development in Ilford (Report, 16 October), the really insulting thing is how no one really nails the government and developers on the massive lie inherent in every definition of “affordable” they use. Rather than fig-leaf approaches based on already unaffordable levels of rent, affordability can only be properly based on average incomes and standard mortgage lending criteria. Given average nationwide incomes and typical four-x income multiples, the actual number of truly “affordable” new homes built in the UK today – and for many years – is probably zero.
Source: The Guardian