An Englishman's home is his castle; buy to let, be a property developer. This is the stuff that's rolled out when it comes to buying a new home and about the pride we should take in claiming a slice of land with bricks on it. And just as we rely on hoary old maxims and shaky new ideas, so we can't move past the same old tired thinking on housing. It's not a place to live anymore; it's a commodity to be invested in.
New housing estates are springing up all over the UK, and often built on land belonging to thriving communities where social housing was once king. These new estates could be classed as anything but 'social' unless you can afford the hefty asking price to purchase a property. Some new properties in particular are so unaffordable and out of reach that even those on excellent salaries, and where both adults are working, including able to lay down a large deposit, are thinking twice about purchasing.
Some new estates being built do actually include relatively inexpensive housing but are on average only a smaller proportion of homes being built. The cheapest homes available to purchase will be one bedroom flats, for example. But only one in five new homes forecasted to be built are actually classified as “affordable”, with only a small percentage of new homes earmarked to be social rented housing. In some cases, developments comprise nothing but luxury properties.
Some new estates being built do actually include relatively inexpensive housing, but are on average a smaller proportion of homes being built. The cheapest homes available to purchase will be one-bedroom flats, for example. But only one in five new homes forecasted to be built are actually classified as 'affordable', and only a small percentage of new homes earmarked for social housing purposes. In some cases, developments comprise nothing but luxury properties. The Department for Communities and Local Government reported that government departments have identified 91% of the land needed to meet the government’s target of 160,000 new homes by 2020, of which 9% has already been sold. As more land is sold off to private developers, there is less opportunity to reverse mistakes being made.
If a new development has 200 homes, there could be only 10 affordable homes made available for low rental purposes, of which some will only be one-bedroom apartments, or a smaller number again of two-bedroom homes, and a smaller number again of three or four-bedroomed properties. Whereas often the land they are built on was once home to 200 or 300 council-owned family homes of one to six-bedroom properties, with added allotment space, not to mention garages, parks, shopping parades and sometimes small workshops. Think small, build small, seems to be the industry-wide thought process.
Theresa May's idea of building houses in the UK has resulted in a chronic undersupply of affordable homes. Ashamedly, we find that councils are often left with no choice but to sell off public land to a private developer. The staggering cuts to local councils, handed down to them by reckless and scheming central government since 2010, have been savage to say the least. We should trying to understand the pressures that some councils are under, especially in areas we would know as traditional Labour heartlands.
If a council cannot maintain their social housing stock, and afford repairs to keep that stock in line with decent housing standards, we would expect those homes to fall into a state of disrepair, and eventually become boarded up whilst laying empty in a dilapidated state. It then becomes inevitable those homes will become community eyesores, before being demolished to enable the valuable land they sit on to be sold. It means the council has gone from being the landlord responsible for social housing (not to mention responsible for the costs involved in maintaining the standards of those homes), to having no responsibility at all.
That said, councils do have the responsibility of rehousing those ex-tenants. We're seeing more councils publish figures where the costs involved of placing families in private rented homes, and even some that were ex-council, have completely shot up, as rents demanded by private landlords have gone through the proverbial roof. The loser however is definitely the tenant, as they're now at the mercy of a private landlord. How shocking a scenario is it, that in 2018, we're almost back in Victorian Britain. Around 1.87 million homes have been sold under the 'Right to Buy' scheme since it was introduced in 1980, and presumably the revenue generated by the sale of ex-council housing stock is used to re-house tenants. However, It can't last forever, as there are only so many council houses left to sell. It's a desperate situation.
It's similar to what were seeing now in the NHS. Chronic underfunding in order to cause outrage and consternation that paves the way to privatisation. It happened with our social housing stock. The difference of course is that people aren't blind to what the Tories are doing with the NHS. We are awake to the destruction, and maybe you can fool the people once, or even twice, but when a pattern emerges it becomes blatently obvious. Theresa May has been forced to come out and plead with the public that the NHS is not being underfunded by the Tories. The move more likely to appease Tory voters than it is to silence critics.
The answer to the grand sell-off where public land is concerned might be to involve local communities more at the heart of the decision-making process. If the community is encouraged to have a say over what gets built, and where, we might see public land once proudly boasting of affordable social housing, being held for an incoming Labour government to set about doing the right thing and kickstarting a council house revolution. For that to happen we'd need to involve people who actually live in rented accommodation, and from all ages and income brackets.
More than 250 councils are opting for cash receipts in exchange for their land assets through signing up to the One Public Estate programme, which exists to sell land and property to the tune of £414m by 2019. It's a poor show when you consider there are more than 630,000 empty homes in England alone, of which 216,050 of these have been vacant for more than 6 months - the usual definition of an empty home. That's not to mention the numbers of empty properties in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Those aspirational families hoping to buy those new affordable homes on private estates can't all be Labour-supporting households. Some will undoubtedly be voters of other parties. This is great news for the Tories, and perhaps why we hear little from them by means of complaint. We might begin to see areas we class as more staunch Labour-supporting heartlands feature a higher than usual Conservative or Lib Dem vote count.
Something has to be done, and it needs to be done quick before all the available public land is sold to private developers, leaving nothing for a mass social housebuilding programme. That being the case we may have to hope for a 'Manny Shinwell' type to come to the fore. A certain someone with enough gumption to set about a house-building initiative on land owned by high Tory gentry. That would mean perhaps six hundred dwelling estates featuring social housing of all types, complete with shops, community centres, workshops and factories as standard. That's what I call a community.
The alternative is more of the same faceless, soulless housing, badly built, on or close to flood plains, and with no idea of wider community in mind. How are we supposed to partake in the Tory 'British Dream' when they get something as simple as basic housing priorities so very wrong?
Dave Beamish for Political Provocateur
Edited by Max Webster; Editor of Political Provocateur