Will the New Tory Government Solve Our Housing Crisis?

Now that the political spectacle once dubbed 'the most un-predictable election in history' is over, and the Tories are at the head of their first majority government since the 1990s, what will they do to deal with the UK's housing crisis?

A few months ago I wrote a blog about Britain's housing crisis, and what each of the political parties were offering ahead of the general election. I came to the conclusion that while none of the parties were offering enough, some were at least getting it more right than others.

Now that the political spectacle once dubbed 'the most un-predictable election in history' is over, and the Tories are at the head of their first majority government since the 1990s, what will they do to deal with the UK's housing crisis?

The new government recently reiterated their pledge to build 200,000 homes in the first Queen's Speech of the new administration as part of a new Housing Bill, a move welcomed by the Home Builders Federation. The fact that the government are pledging new builds is a good start, but this does not come close to reflecting the high demand. Homelessness charity Shelter were quick to criticise the plans, saying that they could lead to a rise in the number of people roughing it on the streets.

The major issue I have with the Conservatives' housing policy is that the 200,000 new houses they've pledged to build for first time buyers over the next five years are simply not enough to really confront the crisis head-on. We need to be building at least 200,000 every year if we're to be in with a chance of effectively tackling the chronic housing shortage in the UK any time soon.

It's worth pointing out, however, that this problem is not simply restricted to the Tories - every major party failed to pledge enough new housing in their election manifestos. The only exception was the Green Party who were offering an incredible 500,000 new builds a year - there was a fly in the ointment, however, in that they couldn't explain where the money to fund this bold statement would be coming from.

I've previously written about my support for the Tories' proposed brownfield regeneration fund. To recap; before the election they pledged £1bn to reclaim previously used industrial land and make it suitable for building residences. The reclamation of brownfield land has the twofold benefits of leaving green belt land untouched for people to enjoy, and reclaiming land that is taken up by abandoned buildings.

In the recent Queen's Speech they reiterated their support of brownfield sites as a location for house building, setting themselves a target of having plans in place to build on 90% of brownfield land by 2020. Additionally, they pledged to speed up the planning system so that new builds can be set in motion quicker; this is likely to face local resistance however, on greenbelt land especially. This is a promising start, but the sticking point remains the headline figure; 200,000 new homes. That is simply not enough.

Clearly then, the government's housing policy leaves much to be desired. The ideal policy would of course be to create a housing market that treads that fine line between providing a fair deal for first time buyers and sellers alike; house prices that are reasonable enough for first time buyers, yet high enough to provide a fair deal for current owners. An unrealistic ideal perhaps but unfortunately due to the low amount of houses currently being built, owners are getting a much fairer deal while renters and prospective first time buyers are literally being left out in the cold.

There is some debate on the number of new houses required to hit this sweet spot, but the general consensus is clear; firstly, the UK is simply not building enough, and secondly, the number that needs to be built yearly is at least 200,000. The National Housing Federation (NHF) say that we need to be building 245,000 new builds a year if we're to keep up with demand. To be fair, new builds are on the rise, but the latest figures showed that 125,110 homes were built between April 2014 and March 2015; 119,890 short of NTF's target figures.

However, I'm mindful of the fact that money doesn't grow on trees; we are still in economic recovery after all, and the lavish spending of previous administrations seems a very distant memory. Clearly the government have a lot of tough decisions to make on where to spend their money and - perhaps more pertinently - where to cut funding in these times of austerity. However, the lack of prioritisation of housing - not only by the current government but by previous ones too - is troubling.

Human beings have three basic needs; food, water and shelter. With this in mind, it's troubling that the government can't, or won't, build new houses at a rate that reflects demand. If the government fulfil their pledges on housing, made in the Queen's Speech, and there's every chance they won't even manage that, the housing crisis is likely to get worse rather than better over the next five years.

Simon Thomas is the Managing Director of Asset International, a leading manufacturer of large diameter plastic pipes. Asset International Ltd supplies bespoke designs to the water and construction industries, from surface drainage to foul sewers and inter-process pipework: www.weholite.co.uk

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