The centre ground is shifting. It is always good news when the Tories try to steal the policies of the Left because it shows that the consensus in British politics is moving leftward. And it's about time! Whilst Margaret Thatcher wasn't responsible for everything that's gone wrong in Britain since 1979, she most definitely was responsible for politicizing housing. Instead of the post-war consensus that everyone deserved a decent place to live, regardless of income or ability to pay, the Thatcher governments turned houses into investments through council house sell-offs and a moritorium on new council house building. It has taken her Party forty years to catch on that this was a huge and damaging mistake.
Sadly, the investment being offered is paltry in the face of the housing crisis facing the UK. It is reckoned there are 5 million people waiting for a council house and many others are living in cramped and overcrowded conditions. The money announced by the Prime Minister will deliver about 5000 new houses each year for the next four to five years. The problem is that at least that number are currently being sold off under the right-to-buy scheme introduced in the 1980s. Added to this is the current government's notion that an affordable rent is up to 80% of market rent. It is frankly farcical to suggest that this will alleviate the immense suffering the current failed housing market is causing to so many.
Let's face it, this is not a problem that Whitehall & Westminster will solve. We need Local Government and civil society to take up the challenge and fight harder for the right to get on with viable solutions. Council Housing departments need to get up and running again, but with a very different mission. We don't need to recreate the monolithic state landlords of the past. Instead we need social entrepreneurs who will coordinate, negotiate and regulate as well as be a player in the game. Councils will need to release land for building but retain rights and ownership -perhaps using the Community Land Trust idea
from the US as a model to prevent housing costs rocketing. And what about increasing apprenticeships in construction with the incentive for self-build - acquire skills and build you own home?
We must also learn from the mistakes of the past. Planning smalller estates and ensuring mixed tenure is part of the way to create communities and avoid socially segregated dumping grounds. Social rent can no longer be a one-size-fits-all but based on ability to pay. Councils should receive the rewards for reducing housing benefit in their area and be able to invest the surplus in more housing. And, perhaps most importantly, councils need to build partnerships with others, especially transport, banks, schools and civil society, all those who have a stake in good, strong, well-serviced communities.
It shouldn't need saying but our new communities must be carbon neutral or even positive - proper provision for bikes, buses, electric vehicles, pedestrians and renewable power must be at the heart of planning. That's why city and town centre sites must be earmarked for social housing rathert ahn sold to the highest bidder.
The priority for each Council is the provision of decent accommodation for every person and ensuring that there is no competition for housing within council boundaries. It is incredibly sad that, in 2017, modern British politics has utterly failed to do this. It should not be a problem in one of the richest countries in the world. Incredible politicians, like Deputy London Mayor, James Murray, have shown it's possible to make a change in the heart of London. I'm convinced it can happen in places like Coventry too.