HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
The dream of owning a home has long been cherished. From the old adage that ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’ to Margaret Thatcher’s virtuous right-to-buy policy, the life changing value of home ownership has underpinned a vision of democratic citizenship. Tory Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin drove an inter-war surge in housebuilding, giving life to the ideal of a “property owning democracy”, but it was Mrs Thatcher who gave new generations of families (my parents amongst them) a chance to own their home for the first time.
State intervention to help realise the vision of property ownership has been renewed in recent years with the hugely successfully ‘help-to-buy’ scheme aiding hundreds of thousands of first time buyers. Indeed local housebuilders tell me that three-quarters of their customers are benefitting from ‘help-to-buy.’
Despite this progress, Britain’s housing market is ailing. Since 1970, house price inflation has far exceeded that of any comparable wealthy nation, with the typical house now costing nearly eight times average earnings – an all-time high. Even with government support, the dream of home ownership still feels remote to many, leaving millions of people feeling trapped by a cycle of expensive renting. Just 65 per cent of Britons are now home owners – a smaller percentage than in Italy, Spain and elsewhere.
Part of the problem is that the pace of housebuilding has not kept up with our growing, ageing population. To fix this we must build more homes, but of the kind people want to live in, in the places they would like to live.
In future, when councils produce realistic local plans to properly identity housing needs, they must engage with the community on the number, design and mix of new housing, so existing residents will have their voices heard on homes built in their area. Here in South Holland our council has achieved much; take the splendid development on the site of the former tax office in Spalding, but there is more to do.
Freed, at last, from the banal blandness of poorly designed catalogue houses and bureaucrats’ preoccupation with ugly social housing, communities can compose development in tune with local wishes and in concert with what was built long ago. In building these needed homes it’s vital too that we free up unused land to develop brownfield sites. The green belt must –and will – remain protected, as the open countryside is rarely the best place for development.
There must be measures to make it easier for small and medium sized builders to get into the market, as the dominance of a small number of firms inevitably leads to the large, identikit estates which scar many parts of Britain.
For those renting there is increased support – letting agent’s fees will be banned, unfair lease terms will be tackled and more will be done to promote longer tenancy agreements, giving families the chance to put down communal roots.
By getting more of the right homes built in the right places we can help people by realising the dream of home ownership – to be proud, secure and have a stake in the future.