Categories
Harrow Housing Local Election London

Who I’m Voting For In The Local Election, And Why

On the off-chance that someone who doesn’t already know me reads this, a little introduction.

I am a lifelong Tory.  I have always voted Tory, I am pretty much in love with Margaret Thatcher, I was a great admirer of David Cameron – and I always vote Conservative.

More importantly, I am a free-marketeer, I am an economic and social liberal – though I believe in individual responsibility and minimising government spending.  Though occasionally the Conservative Party can make me wince socially – they have proven time and again that they are the only political party that will allow a free-market economy without endangering it through wasteful spending (though we are still spending far too much – austerity is an illusion…but that is a totally different argument).

Unfortunately, Brexit means that they are no longer following what I believe to be an optimal path in terms of economic well-being – yes I voted to remain, and increasingly strongly feel that we should have remained in the EU.  The Conservative Party has become the Brexit Implementation Party.  Sensible decisions can no longer be assumed.

This is not, however, a national election.

This is a local election, and as much as I would be tempted to use the opportunity to give the Conservative Party a kicking over Brexit – this is a local election and I will be voting on local issues.

My local area is Harrow.  Labour-run, though with plenty of Conservative councillors, a few independents and one Liberal Democrat (in my ward).  My ward is made up of two Labour councillors and one Liberal Democrat.

The council seems at least relatively well-run from my experience.  The bins are picked up on time…erm…what else do councils do?  I have no idea how much council tax is as my landlady pays it.  There is a litter problem in my area but I don’t blame the council for the morons who cannot be bothered to use a bin.  The council have just installed seemingly around 88,000 new bins just on my high street.

The one real issue that a local council can influence is housing, through their respective planning committees.  Like across the whole of London and the south-east of England, houses are extortionately expensive, for renting but especially for buying.  If we don’t build enough houses, house prices will never come down to affordable levels.

The council has approved some nice, elegant, tall blocks of flats near the train station, which will offer many homes.

The Conservative Party in my local area voted against (from my understanding), and are actively campaigning against housing being in the form of flats.

However, unless they are proposing to build on playing fields or parks, there is nowhere in Harrow to build sufficient amounts of semi-detached houses.  It has to be flats.  I even saw one person complaining that a block of flats would ruin their view of a distant church on the hill.

Stuff your view of the church.  People need somewhere to live.  Families need somewhere to grow.  Those in desperate need of social housing need somewhere to stay.

The Conservative Party in my local area are against helping to solve what is one of the largest problems in the country, and the only one of the large problems (in my view) that local councils have any responsibility for.

It should go without saying that I cannot vote Labour.  I spoke to two Liberal Democrat campaigners in my local area who advised that they supported building such badly-needed housing…interestingly, both recent ex-Tories too.  The Conservative Party just post anti-housing leaflets through my doors and offer to keep picking the bins up on time.  Thanks.

And only Liberal Democrats or Labour can really win the council seats in my ward – my loathing for Labour far outweighs my support for the Conservative Party

Nationally it would still require a lot to happen for the Liberal Democrats to persuade me that I should vote for them – they seem to have no leader, I know little of their policies, their MPs often seem weak and uninspiring.

Therefore, with a fairly heavy heart, I have concluded that I cannot vote for the Conservative Party in this local election, and have voted Liberal Democrat.

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For those who are passionate, like I am, about more houses being built – may I recommend that you follow and support Yimby.  Yes In My Back Yard.

Categories
Housing

Housing Policy

I noted with disconcertment the announcement the other day that help is to be given to 200,000 first time buyers to help them buy a new-build house.

This is hardly the wide-ranging policy that is required to solve the housing crisis – which to me, is second only to the debt/deficit in terms of priority.

That it doesn’t show as one of the top voter concerns is because ever-rising house prices are not a problem for those who own their house, which are the majority of the country.

I am 35 now and many people of my generation will never be able to afford a home before they retire now.  Think of it as a lost generation.  Certainly in the south and London, where house prices are absolutely exorbitant.  I was shown a house the other day for £250k.  A small two-bedroom terraced house in a slightly dodgy town-centre location, here in Reading.  It was nice inside but still – £250,000.00???!!!

My own position I can live with.  However the lost generation will be far greater a burden on society in the future.  For the lost generation will all need to be housed as without a regular income, the retired lost generation will not own a home of their own and will have to be provided for by the state.  This will be hugely costly especially on top of their health care provision (unless Labour privatises the NHS) and pension commitments.

I dearly hope that David Cameron and the rest of the Conservative party have far more up their sleeves to resolve this crisis, and are drip-feeding us housing policy announcements.

Back in the early 1950’s, a Conservative government with MacMillan in charge of housing, before he later became Prime Minister, built 300,000 houses a year.

Interestingly though the private market was often building around 150,000 houses a year – the rest were being built by local authorities.  150,000 houses is approximately what is being built now.

House building actually increased in the 1960’s despite (or because of?) the large volume of local authority housing being built.

There is an argument that housing is not so urgent an issue as it was after the war.  Most people do have access to decent quality accommodation now which one presumes was not the case in 1950 when MacMillan was arguing for such large increases in house building.

Also some of the housing built in this era was quite frankly, crap.

Yet for anyone earning a decent wage but totally priced out of the housing market, this is a crisis.  For those living at home with their parents in their 20’s or 30’s, for those not able to buy their first house with their spouse, for those without access to a large deposit – this is a crisis.

The policy announced this week is a drop in the ocean.  Unsurprisingly the Labour Party have no answer.  They promise to build 200,000 houses a year by 2020.  But provide no detail on how.

I am interested in their suggestion that landbanking is clamped down on.  I am not convinced of the market-worthiness and certainly do not accept any notion of land being confiscated, but I do feel that is an interesting idea to ensure land with planning permission is built on.

However we need to go far further.  My suggestions are:

1. Allow local authorities to borrow large sums to fund housing at the current very low interest rates.
2. Reduce red tape.  For example, why does a developer have to pay £45,000.00 per dwelling to build a house?  This doesn’t come out of their profits.
3. Build on the green belt.  Building on just 2% of the UK’s green belt would be enough for 2.5million homes.  That is worth reading again.  Just 2%.
4. Force local authorities to build a certain amount of housing where it is most necessary.
5. New towns/garden cities.  Build plenty of new towns.  They actually worked.
6. Housing First.  We should look seriously at the Housing First policy that has been implemented in a few areas of North America where the most venerable (ie drug addicted homeless repeat-offender criminals) are given basic housing, no question asked.

It won’t be easy.  But Conservative governments don’t take the easy options.  We build for the future.  We take tough decisions to resolve problems.

The housing crisis is our responsibility to resolve and now is time for affirmative action.

GET BUILDING!

Categories
Ed Miliband Housing

Margaret Miliband


You have to give it to Miliband, he does put a rabbit out of his hat at every big conference speech.
Credit where credit is due, he is pretty good at this.
Last year he led the political weather by promising a crazily dumb policy on freezing energy prices, with the potential to lead to early price hikes for consumers and supply issues – as if the total mismanagement of energy supply under the 13 years of Labour government hadn’t done enough to damage the energy market.
Hilariously ironic that he raised this as an issue given that Ed Miliband himself did most to increase energy bills all by himself in the name of climate change.
Remember – not one new power station built under Labour from 1997 to 2010, despite the relatively benign economic conditions for most of that time.
This is a useful graphic to see how and when energy prices increased:
Onto this year, and you won’t believe this but Red Ed is evoking the spirit of none other than…as you may have guessed from the title – Margaret Thatcher.
Copied straight from the Margaret Thatcher textbook is the speech’s probable headline to build up to 200,000 more new homes every year – albeit only to be reached by 2020.  Also using new home corporations, forcing companies to use land or lose it and also a new generation of garden cities.
This is clever politics.  I don’t think any of this is new policy from Labour but to lead on it and evoke the spirit of Thatcher is a clever ruse to appeal to the floating voters.
But can you trust Labour on housing?  History says no – even the Guardian harshly criticise the previous Labour administration.
This simple chart shows how population growth shot up under Labour (open door policy – another blog for another time!) and house-building didn’t keep up.
But even more shockingly given the demographic that Labour are supposed to support – only 6,330 council houses were completed in the 13 years that Labour were in charge.  Mrs Thatcher built 17,710 in 1990 alone.
Then again my beloved Tories don’t exactly have a lot to shout about either so far this parliament.  Yes, planning rules have been relaxed – lessening the burden of Labour’s regulation upon home-builders – one particularly interesting policy is that of being able to turn unused town centre offices into flats, something that is being put to good use here in the town on Reading, where I live.
However nowhere near enough is being done to increase the supply of housing, for both the wannabe home-owning classes, particularly the under 35’s – and also social housing for those in need.
I wrote to the Tory party early a few years back to try to encourage them to take housing as seriously as the economy in general, as this is not only a vote-winner but a really significant problem on many levels.  Possibly the biggest problem facing the UK outside of our debt.
I believe in market solutions, however I also believe that government should step in where markets fail.  Markets are clearly failing to build enough houses to meet demand, and have failed for around 2 decades, so my policy suggestion is for the government to set a target for each year, and any undersupply would then subsequently be funded and built by government.
My expectation is that this would nudge builders to make more use of their land and get the necessary houses built without much, or hopefully any building from government.
I would set a target of 200,000 at first and 250,000 by 2020.  Should recession occur then the target would be temporarily relaxed.
I like the garden city idea –I particularly like the idea that won the Wolfson economics prize recently to see 80,000 homes added in 40 towns and cities, including my home town of Reading.  It’s a shame the housing minister has dismissed the idea.
Controversially we should also build on 2% of the green belt.  It isn’t that much.  Housing is more important than 2% of the green belt.
With regards to social housing, I would like to see local authorities being able to borrow against future rents to build more where there is legitimate demand for social housing – for those in need, not those in want.  There was a change in this direction in the Autumn statement last year but more could be done.
I doubt the parties will be too far apart on their manifesto pledges come 2015 on the subject of housing but I know who I trust to deliver.
Housing and energy are just two of the many areas that Labour failed for us between 1997 and 2010.  It wasn’t just the economy that they trashed.
But don’t worry, Ed is going to create a million green jobs.   A ha ha ha ha ha ha!  Once he has destoyed millions of non-green jobs.
(Apologies that I do not have access to Photoshop at work, and my lunchtime has run out so please blend them together in your mind).