Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Britain: build more houses!

So the Government and the Opposition have been having a row about housing numbers. Housing Minister Grant Shapps says that numbers of house completions have risen sharply; his Labour opponents say they've 'collapsed'. What to make of it?

Well, it's a non-story in some ways. Late last year, the number of affordable (read: non-astronomical) housing starts collapsed to almost nothing. But ever since, as new Coalition programmes have come online, numbers of starts (and, that lagging indicator) completions, have been going up. From a pathetically low base, mind you.

So it depends on how you look at it. It depends on the time frame. Yada yada, as young people apparently (don't say) all the time. Move along, citizens. No story here.

Except that there is a story here, and it's our complete inability as a society to build enough dwellings for our rising population. The birth rate rose in the 1990s, affluence and social change means that more and more people want to live alone, and immigration has been running at historic highs. So we probably need to build a quarter of a million homes every year just to keep up with that demand.

Bearing in mind that house prices haven't actually dropped all that much during the worst recession for 80 years, that means that prices aren't going to come down and help poorer and younger Britons any time soon. The Housing Minister has in fact admitted as much, along with the fact that housebuilding would actually be one of the best ways to get us out of our current fix. While cutting spending. But that's another story.

So-called 'ribbon' development - all those 1930s semis on the arterial routes out of our major cities - was one of the ways in which another apparently 'broad-based' or 'National' government dug us out of the last depression caused by the collapse of the financial system. With low interest rates, plenty of land and plenty of idle workers, we should be able to do the same again.

We won't. Swivel-eyed spending cutters, middle-aged and older homeowners, Barbour-clad country dwellers, snobs and supposedly Socialist planners will conspire to make sure that we don't.

It's a pity. It's all I'm saying.

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