Your business leader identified the acute lack of affordable housing as a serious issue doing great damage to the fabric of our society and requiring urgent action (“No more tinkering”, (Business).
Finance and a dearth of building land were highlighted as key issues. With regard to funding, we should look at the Danish model, by setting up a government-backed corporation able to borrow market funds (currently at historically low rates) from savers keen to obtain any interest at all and pension funds, private or public, seeking long-term security, at modest interest rates.
A second new corporation would vet potential property buyers and their proposed dwellings, as building societies and banks do now, before recommending them to the first corporation for mortgages that could be for 25 years, or longer to allow for buying in more expensive areas .
However, affordable housing relies on the supply of available and cheaper building sites and, for most towns and cities, that means building on the outskirts, mainly on farmland, as in my city, Oxford, some of it in the green belt, some on sites of special scientific interest or of particular landscape value. Under my plan, farmers would be offered twice the current agricultural value by selling to local authorities and schemes would avoid SSSIs or scenic sites, but certainly include some green belt.
Green belts were proposed in 1948 to meet the then current need to prevent towns expanding into the countryside before brownfield sites were utilised. But 21st-century needs are different and thousands of cheaper dwellings, close to centres of employment to minimise commuting, are urgently needed.
We should also be using scarce land resources better – three-, four- and five-storey dwellings and at higher densities to the hectare. We should revisit the 1950s and 1960s’ Parker Morris standards of space and quality, which would encourage the use of factory-built dwellings with much higher standards of construction and energy efficiency. They would be much faster to build, while creating thousands of skilled jobs (including apprenticeships) in areas that need such employment.
Only by such broad, radical thinking do we stand a chance of providing enough affordable housing, but is anyone in government listening?
We grieve for the seaside towns hollowed out by second homes (“The new frontline of Cornish war on second homes”, News). But they are not alone. In pretty well every university town, the ivory tower casts a shadow over the local community, where landlords buy up family homes for use as second homes for students (in even greater proportions than in Cornwall). The impacts are the reverse of seaside towns – overwhelmed in term time, deserted in the holidays.
Dr Richard Tyler
National HMO Lobby
Today, 1.2 million people are on housing waiting lists in England and Wales and more than 6 million face tenure insecurity. The situation in my home city of Bath is a microcosm of what has been happening in the country. The buy-to-let sector has mushroomed, the crisis in social housing has become acute, families live on boats on the canal, homelessness and overcrowding have increased. Yet Bath is now a richer and more prosperous place than at any time in its history.
In 1945, Bath had been badly bombed and many people, like my parents, were living in dingy rooms in decaying buildings. But, thanks to the determination of the governments of both Clement Attlee and Harold Macmillan, the city’s postwar housing crisis was eradicated. The difference between the Bath of today and the Bath of 1945 is that a sense of common national purpose and concern for those at the bottom seem to be going down the plughole.