During the election campaign, both the Labour party and the Conservative party placed housing and dealing with the housing crisis at the top of their agenda. Both parties pledged to support 1 million homes being built. Labour promised 100,000 of these a year would be genuinely affordable and guaranteed that the Help to Buy scheme would continue until 2027. Whereas the Conservative party, who promised to “fix the broken housing market”, focused on house building in its entirety, neglecting the concerns of those who are unable to get on the housing ladder.
The election produced a hung parliament, with increased youth turn out rates, demonstrating a clear mandate for change. The surprise election result demonstrated that young people who are unable to find affordable homes to rent and get on the housing ladder had had enough.
The Conservative party will inevitably form a majority share of the government and it is now necessary for them to re-evaluate their plans and provide a comprehensive response to concerns raised by voters. The apparent delay in Theresa May’s appointment of a new housing minister doesn’t fill us with confidence.
We finally learned on Tuesday afternoon that Alok Sharma is the man being tasked with this unenviable challenge. Many ministers before him have failed to address the fundamental problem of high demand and limited supply. For Mr Sharma to buck the trend, there needs to be a focus on policy that enables and encourages developers of all sizes to build more. House building has become more and more expensive and the industry is therefore saturated by large developers who are only able or willing to provide low levels of affordable housing. The government must encourage and support entrepreneurialism and provide financial incentives that encourage innovation and increase the development of affordable housing.
The government also needs to provide certainty about the future of the Help to Buy scheme and encourage development with affordable rents. It is a well-known fact that high rents make it difficult for first time buyers to save for a mortgage deposit. Through assisting councils and housing associations in creating genuinely affordable rented homes, those looking to purchase their first home will be given the genuine opportunity to save for what has previously been the unachievable ambition of homeownership.
Lastly, there must be improvements to the planning system. Planning departments are critically understaffed, which in turn slows down the application process and limits the number of viable applications that can be approved. It is crucial that investments are made if the government is truly committed to reaching their proposed housing targets.
Mr Sharma’s record in parliament does not leave us feeling confident that these necessary steps will be taken. The MP for Reading West has previously voted in line with the government on almost all housing related matters, voting for a reduction in welfare spending, and consistently voting to get rid of secure tenancies. With little else to go on regarding his attitude towards planning matters, it is fair to assume that we can only expect more of the same from Mrs May’s Government.
Whilst only time will tell whether the government will seriously address the housing crisis, we sincerely hope that, in the light of the tragic devastation of Grenfell Tower, it will be made a priority. Questions raised about the revision and enforcement of building regulations and fire safety measures in high density residences, not to mention basic housing provision, need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
This article was written by Mabel Ogundayo, Senior Account Executive at MPC.