Noted Housing and Planning Academic Peter Ambrose has been patiently putting together the pro-housing alliance over the last few months to argue the point for greater focus on housing issues. Indeed all governments that treat housing as a ‘second tier’issue after health, education etc. find the neglect comes back to bite it.
the failure of public policies over the past 30 years to fully recognize housing as a key determinant of health. This has led to a lack of housing that is genuinely affordable; to increased personal debt, which in turn damages both physical and mental health; and to high ‘exported costs’ for several budgets including health, education and policing.
Housing conditions in Britain are among the worst in Western Europe and cost the nation about £7bn a year by adding to the pressure on the NHS and other public services, according to a major study to be published today.
An alliance of housing experts warns that a lack of affordable, decent homes, cuts to local authority housing budgets and the Coalition Government’s benefit reforms are creating “real hardship, misery and ill-health” for some of the country’s most vulnerable people
It warns that homelessness is on the rise and predicts the return of unscrupulous landlords like the infamous Peter Rachman, who exploited his London tenants in the 1950s and 1960s. Almost 4,000 people are sleeping rough on London’s streets, an increase of 8 per cent since last year. About half of these are from the UK and the rest from a wide variety of other countries, notably Poland. There is little sign that the Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s target of ending rough sleeping by next year will be met, the report says.
The Pro-Housing Alliance urges the Coalition to drop its plans to cut housing benefit, warning they will cause severe hardship arising from the mental and physical health problems associated with debt, poverty and enforced relocations and increase health risks from overcrowding.
Today’s blueprint recommends the housing crisis should be tackled by the provision of 500,000 green and affordable houses and flats a year for the next seven years, including bringing empty homes back into use.
This proposal will fuel the debate over the Government’s controversial plans to streamline planning laws. Environmental groups fear they will result in thousands of homes being built in the Green Belt. Yesterday the National Trust met Greg Clark, the Planning minister, to urge him to think again.
Ben Cowell, the trust’s external affairs director, said: “The tension within government policy is between localism and economic growth and they come down clearly on the side of economic growth. So local people will be given the power to say yes, but not the power to say no.”
But David Cameron told MPs yesterday: “House building is too low in this country, and it is a shocking statistic that the typical first-time buyer is now in their mid-30s. So we need change – we need more houses to be built.”
Dr Stephen Battersby, president of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, which brought the housing groups together, said: “The lack of a coherent housing policy for the past 30 years has created an expensive housing market with a shortage of affordable housing.
“Too many people are paying too much for their accommodation relative to incomes. Too many properties pose a risk to health and safety, and the cost to the NHS of treating housing-related illness is way too high. Housing is fundamental to public health and well-being, and the Government needs a completely new way of thinking about housing.” He said housing is one of the biggest casualties of the Government’s spending cuts, with some of the most vulnerable members of society paying the heaviest price for a financial crisis brought on by bankers.
“I fear that we are also moving to a situation where unscrupulous landlords proliferate as better landlords move up-market. Councils will not be in a position to regulate this effectively. This is not a problem that is going to disappear conveniently,” he said.
Today’s report says the crisis is most acute in London, where housing costs are about 50 per cent greater and childcare costs much higher than nationally. As a result, plans by Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, to bring in a universal credit in 2013 will be “especially damaging” in London. The spending power of a lone parent with two children working six hours a week will be £8,434 in London compared to £9,482 nationally.
There is expected to be an increase of between 30,000 and 34,000 households in the capital every year for the next 25 years, a high proportion of which will be single-person households.
The number of families on waiting lists in London doubled to 362,000 between 1997 and 2010 – and now accounts for more than 20 per cent of the national waiting list. Yet more than 6,000 council homes are empty in London, nearly a third because they need repairs, with more than 2,300 going without tenants for more than a year
Why 500,000 a year for seven years rather than the 250,000-280,000 a year we need from household growth – clearing up the backlog.
The Indy editorial states
The problem is far from new. Successive governments over three decades have presided over a national housing policy which has been striking for its lack of coherence. But it is only now – as long-unaddressed concerns from ballooning property prices to stalemate debates about planning laws come together – that the storm is threatening to break. Worryingly, there is little sign that politicians of any party have comprehensive answers.
Tempers are already fraying. Recent debates about squatting have seen, on one side, the Government mooting plans to criminalise the offence of taking over someone else’s empty home; while, on the other, a judge maintains squatters perform a service to society by putting empty properties back into use.
Then there is the fracas over planning, with the National Trust warning that the Government’s proposed reforms are “fundamentally wrong”, while the relevant minister, Greg Clark, branded the charity’s intervention as “nihilistic selfishness”.
Behind the emotion is the fact that Britain does not have enough suitable homes. The population is rising, people are living longer, divorces are splitting existing households, and yet house-building has slumped to its lowest level for 90 years. Prices have rocketed, leaving an entire generation of young people facing the prospect of never being able to buy their own home.
With buyers priced out of the market, pressure grows in the rented sector, pushing up rents and creating opportunities for unscrupulous landlords. More than a million people already live in sub-standard privately rented accommodation, and there is disturbing evidence that the problem is spreading, particularly in London.
In tackling the housing crisis, there is a long list of options which warrant examination. The Pro-Housing Alliance, a pressure group, suggests reining back proposed cuts to housing benefit, improving the business environment for house-builders, reforming land taxation, or using the Big Society Bank to promote community land trusts to buy the land for low-cost homes. As the debate over planning reforms becomes increasingly incendiary, the Government also needs to look more intelligently at the use of the Green Belt in its forthcoming planning reforms.
But it is not just about building new property, it is also about making better use of what we have. There are an estimated 300,000 homes in the UK that have been empty for longer than six months, many of them currently too run-down to be used.
The shortage in Britain’s housing stock needs to be addressed with bold and innovative thinking. And we need it quickly
This illustrates how the NPPF debate cannot descend into a development v countryside ruck. We need to protect the environment, and achieve true sustainability, at the same time. And only good planning, planning for Smart Growth – not laissez faire sprawl – can achieve this. This is why we have started the Campaign Against Sprawl.