It’s a start. The Lyons Review has, if nothing else, put the housing crisis firmly in the public eye. It’s received major media coverage and clearly argued the case: there is a crisis, something needs to be done and something can be done. But whilst we broadly welcome its conclusions and the ensuing debate, there are two problems: politics and ambition.
Sir Michael Lyons and his team were commissioned by Labour, and inevitably their conclusions – and Labour’s record on house-building – have been disputed and criticised by the other main parties.
Regardless of the politics and nitty gritty of detail, building homes, understandably, is also a particularly thorny issue. Even if there is a broad agreement on its necessity, how many people actually want new houses anywhere near them?
The Lyons review recognises that planning regulations need to be reformed, but that’s only half the battle. Unless the need to build becomes paramount, local politicians will err towards caution (and safeguarding votes) when faced with sensitive decisions.
We would argue, perhaps naively, that the housing crisis facing this country is of such magnitude that it transcends party politics. Unfortunately and inevitably the issue will become a tit for tat, you said didn’t do, squabble.
That’s the politics dealt with, if only…
Now to the second problem: ambition.
We welcome the plan for homes corporations across city and county regions to provide the vehicle to deliver Housing Enterprise Zones. As I’ve said we also welcome any measure which would oil the rusty wheels of this country’s planning system. But we think Lyons/Labour falls short on numbers. If elected, it says by 2020 it will be building 200,000 new homes a year. We say there is a need for even more – 245,000 per year. Even then that would only match the number of new household formations every year, but – with the number of people on local authority waiting lists approaching 2 million – just scratch the surface.
But we have to be realistic and accept that the failure to renew the country’s housing stock cannot be rectified overnight. We have to work with what we’ve got and we should at least be grateful that the main political parties are at last talking about housing and putting numbers on their ambition, even though there is nothing approaching a consensus. Aside from Labour, the Conservatives say they will build 100,000 new homes for first time buyers and the Liberal Democrats 300,000 overall.
But there is a long, long way to go before it is more widely accepted that a housing crisis is real, here and requires urgent attention and action. Political parties, MPs and local councillors will only prioritise in response to popular or influential opinion and that, I believe, is where organisations like Home Group must play a key role in the build-up to the General Election.
Last month’s influential Ipsos MORI poll suggested that only 5% of people viewed housing as their most important issue. Top was the economy at 31% and housing lagged behind other key concerns, from Europe to pensions.
I’m certain that Lyons Commission and the party’s pledges to build, have, for many people, shone a light on the housing crisis they perhaps didn’t think existed. We must make sure that we do all we can to ensure that momentum gathers pace.
by Mark Henderson, chief executive Home Group
Read the Lyons Review at http://www.yourbritain.org.uk/agenda-2015/policy-review/the-lyons-housing-review