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Building the affordable homes we need conference motion

October 3, 2014 12:09 PM

We are living in a housing crisis. House prices and rents in many places have grown beyond what ordinary people can afford. In the 1980s, the average first time buyer needed a deposit of around £3,000. Today, it's £30,000. The average age of a first time buyer is 36, and most of them need help from their parents.

Previous Governments have failed for over three decades to plan for current and future housing need. As a result, we are building less than half the homes we need each year and are facing a growing backlog of over a million.

This is about more than house prices and economic stability - it's about providing the opportunities for everybody that a home gives. We do have a choice, but unless we really want to choose increasing social inequality, homelessness and strangled job mobility, then we cannot choose to say no to homes. The real choice is not whether we build but how we build.

We need a long term plan on housing, not a quick fix. To build truly affordable, zero carbon homes, in communities that people want to live in, we need to take action on a least four fronts: land, investment, the house building sector and political leadership at all levels. Above all, we need to plan for the long term not just for the next election.

This motion includes significant additions to existing party policy and proposals in the pre manifesto which we believe will be necessary to deliver homes that ordinary people can afford, for the next generation not just the next election. The rationale behind the measures is summarised briefly below.

Policy measures

  • We will end decades of neglect which have ignored how crucial housing is to providing opportunities for everybody, through maintaining the economic resilience and social stability of the country. We will publish a cross-governmental plan within one year of the next Parliament. The measures below we believe should be in the plan, as well as those, like new garden cities, which are outlined in the pre-manifesto, which you can read here and in previous party policy papers on housing here, on planning here. Two further motions due to be debated at conference related to housing and older people here and renting.

Recommendation: Within the first year of the next parliament, publish a long-term plan to set out how our house-building objectives will be met; to be overseen by a ministerial taskforce on housing, hosted by the Cabinet Office, ensuring that locally-led housing delivery is integrated into infrastructure delivery, welfare reform, rent strategy, demographic and environmental challenges and a wider growth agenda that spreads economic growth across the country.

  • A growing section of society can't afford to own and can't get access to social housing. Without government investment, they will never own. We need to build a new generation of social homes, as well as homes for those on middle incomes where you can work towards home ownership without throwing all your money way on high rents.

Recommendation: Government investment to support a new generation of quality homes which are affordable even for those on low and middle incomes, including shared ownership, rent-to-buy and other intermediate tenures, where every monthly payment goes towards owning the house.

  • A housing investment bank is needed to simplify the way we fund new housing, create the scale needed to draw in private investment and support innovative providers to link better housing with other factors like health and welfare, to deliver value for money for the taxpayer.

Recommendation: Creation of a new Housing Investment Bank, to simplify the allocation of public funds, create the scale needed to draw in private investment and improve access to finance for social housing providers through traditional capital grant, soft loans and equity investment, bond issues and government guarantees; as part of this, including a "challenge fund" to promote innovative solutions to the housing crisis, imbed long termism and ensure best value for the tax payer.

  • Local authorities need the freedom to become developers again, without seeing their hard work blocked or stifled by short termism. We will encourage local authorities to develop new housing through local housing companies, off balance sheet, as Eastleigh is doing.

Recommendation: Local authorities being allowed to develop homes of a broad mix of tenures through local housing companies, outside of the Housing Revenue Account, retaining a local authority link.

  • Housing associations stand at a crucial intersection. As not for profit organisations who can both build new homes and improve the wellbeing of their tenants, they can build homes and better lives for their tenants. We will give them the freedom they need to manage their businesses, on the condition that they use these freedoms to deliver more homes, and better housing outcomes, for example warmer homes and lower energy bills for their tenants.

Recommendation: Social landlords to be given more control over their businesses, to develop more genuinely affordable homes and enable more efficient use of their resources, by allowing greater rent flexibilities, lifting restrictions on how they value their stock and allowing them to take account of the whole cost of occupancy relating to heating costs to encourage landlords to invest to reduce heating costs and cut fuel poverty.

  • Many of the systemic problems with our housing supply system begin with land, and involve planning. Volatile and expensive land prices stop us building affordable homes in communities with the schools, infrastructure and green spaces that make them pleasant places to live. Local opposition to homes without the infrastructure they need introduces planning uncertainty and risk. Yet we use as much land for golf courses as we do for homes. 10% of land in England is urban, only 2.27% of land is built upon, and only 1% has domestic buildings on it (Defra NEA 2011). Two measures would enable local authorities to plan for the long term and to create and fund better communities, by securing land at above existing use value and using these savings to create higher quality places.
    • Recommendation: Urgent amendment of the New Towns Act to transfer its powers to Local Authorities to acquire land at above existing use value for the creation of new garden villages, towns and cities where appropriate to meet identified housing need, using the land uplift to deliver the highest quality, the infrastructure, and build thriving mixed communities at affordable prices whilst protecting existing communities from unnecessary, poorly-serviced and unpopular sequential development. Further details are outlined here.
    • New Home Zones are an additional tool which planning authorities can choose use to assemble land strategically in a designated zone, to build affordable homes in the right places. They would not mean a free for all for development.
    • Recommendation: Planning authorities to be given the power to designate New Home Zones on strategic sites to generate low cost development and growth. As a suggested example of how this could work in practise, see Building the Homes We Need.
  • Getting up to building 300,000 homes a year is going to require existing and new house builders to gear up and innovate. We need to build the capacity, diversity and skills of the house-building industry to train the people who are going to build the green homes we need. A wide-scale apprenticeships programme, as well as support for SME builders and offsite manufacturing will deliver greener, better quality homes at scale.
  • To increase capacity for house building to meet the 300,000 homes a year target, encourage the development of the offsite construction industry, continue and strengthen support for small and medium size builders, new entrants and self-build, and unlock Housing Association capacity by freeing up opportunities to access land through the new garden communities programme.
  • A large-scale apprenticeships and training programme to build skills capacity over a long period.

For further information, or to add your voice, please drop me an email at tim@timfarron.co.uk