There’s something of a revolution brewing in the UK. People are, quite rightly, accepting that our political system isn’t working for them or their families. It’s almost universally accepted that the British economy is in dire need of upheaval.
In no area is this clearer than housing. The Conservative party is struggling to achieve its pledge to build 1.5million more homes by 2022. Labour tell us that they’re committed to solving the crisis but have absolutely no idea where they’d build homes to satisfy demand. For my generation, it’s a pipe dream to own your own home – but it’s equally as worrying for us that rent prices are going through the roof – making it ridiculously difficult to live where there’s good work without horrible commute times.
There are a number of reasons why our housing situation is so dire – but the chief culprits are NIMBYs. Liz Truss, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury rightly describes the not-in-my-back-yard lobby as “the worst vested interest we’ve got” in the UK. It is quite self-explanatory that obstructing planning permissions and relentless anti-building campaigns are making the areas people want to live in exclusive and allowing landlords to charge whatever they want – as renters or first-time buyers have no choice but to pay it, if they want to relocate or get their foot on the property ladder.
Truss is seemingly the only politician in the UK who comprehends the scale of the housing crisis, and the impact it’s having on young people (and the Conservative youth vote.) She’s pointed out previously that high house prices have contributed to a drop of 25% in the number of people moving to find work in the last 15 years. This, according to Truss, means that employees had missed an average of £2,000 per year in promotions or career changes.
There isn’t just one quick fix for Britain’s housing crisis, but there are a number of policy and strategy changes our lawmakers can champion which would go some way to not only making housing more affordable but improving the life chances of millions of young people. By abolishing Stamp Duty, we can eradicate an unjust and unnecessary tax which is a serious barrier to a freer housing market. We can loosen planning laws to allow homes to be built within a mile of train stations. Let people modify homes as they see fit, self-build and allow streets to raise number of storeys.
Above all, we should address the myths around Britain’s greenbelt – which is scarcely green at all – and build on both brown and greenfield land. Sam Dumitriu, research director at the Entrepreneurs’ Network, points out that only two members of the EU27 have less built environment per capita than the UK: the Netherlands and Cyprus. According to Dumitriu, 90% of land in England remains undeveloped – and just 0.5% of this undeveloped land would be required to fulfil this decade’s housing needs. It is simply not true that building on the greenbelt would equal ‘concreting over our countryside’ – but it would mean that the next generation can afford to live, and better life chances are afforded to them. The damage that NIMBYism is causing to Britain’s young people cannot be overstated. Liberals, or simply those with an interest in a prosperous future for Britain, should leave no stone unturned in debunking the myths the NIMBY lobby perpetuate.
Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, has said that problems with housing are the “biggest risk” to the UK economy. The CBI agreed, saying: “Now is the time for action.”
They’re right. Besides being fundamentally the right thing to do, reviving Thatcher’s dream of a ‘property owning’ (or simply affordably renting) democracy would be one sure-fire way to win over some support at the ballot box for the Conservative party. They’d be foolish not to take the fight to the NIMBY lobby, and they’ll pay at the ballot box for it.