Grant Shapps is this very morning doing the media rounds, chirrupping about one of his pet initiatives, which is offering councils money for allowing new homes to be built within their boundaries. This is not new money. Rather it’s taken from “existing revenue grants” - i.e. money that central government already pays to local government. So there is a downside here as well. Councils taking on less than average amounts of new housebuilding will, in effect, be getting penalised.
All the old shibboleths are being wheeled out.
• "Homebuilding is good for the economy and good for communities." If so, why is it so unpopular? And why would councils need all this encouragement?
• "Housebuilding is at its lowest level since 1924 - we can’t go on like this.”
• "The council house waiting list stands at 4.5 million in England alone — it doubled under Labour.”
Again and again, policy is being set within these very narrow terms of debate. The reason the council house waiting lists have expanded so dramatically is because private housing has become so damned expensive (it's a tax haven, after all) and private rented housing is so damned insecure. In contrast social housing, now being built to higher standards than private housing, and where rents are subsidised and tenure is for life, has become an aspiration. The wonder is that there are not far more people on the waiting lists. Building a few more social houses each year isn't going to have any effect on this state of affairs whatsoever.
And just what is the "correct" level of housebuilding anyway? How can Shapps boast that he has dismantled Labour's target approach, and yet at the same time have the nerve to say that we are not building enough houses. Isn't that just like being told that there is still a target in place but we won't tell you what it is (Hint - it's more than were built in 1924). Is there a national population target? No. Is there an occupant density standard? No. So how the hell can anyone say there are not enough homes being built?
In the absence of any credible yardsticks against which a target can be set, the debate keeps coming back to this waiting list for council houses. "It's 4.5 million and rising." This is the lynchpin of the not enough homes argument. But, of course, it's nothing of the sort. Rather it's a sad reflection of the fact that the ownership of private housing is now out of reach to many millions. They accept that the best option for them now is social housing and so they join the queue. All quite logical. But unless private housing becomes a whole lot cheaper (which probably means some politically inexpedient taxes on property ownership), the social housing queue will stay at much the same length however many social houses we build. It's not really a problem we can build our way out of.
What would be nice is to have some adult debate about this, rather than the constant repetition of these circular arguments about the "need" for new homes.