Monday, 21 November 2011

Government housing policy is failing the people of Cornwall

Today the Coalition government has announced it's own policies to solve the housing crisis, the BBC news site leads the story with the title Affordable Home Shortage: Government to reveal plans. First of all we must congratulate the cabinet of millionaires, for realising that housing is problem and restarting the debate over what can and ought to be done. Unfortunately the government has announced plans that offer the same old broken Thatcherite policies that have caused this generation, my generation, most of the problems. Typically for this right wing government it involves free market solutions and is more about bumping up developers profits than the genuine needs of the people and solving the housing crisis.

Yesterday at the Mebyon Kernow conference hours were spent formulating MK's policy toward housing. We recognise as a party that the people of Cornwall are being failed by housing, that the state whether it be in London or Truro are not doing enough to confront the housing crisis. We recognise as a party that decent affordable housing is something that Cornwall needs, it is our collective belief that the other political parties have failed to grasp the problems and in most cases are making the problems worse. We recognise collectively as a party that we need to lobby, work and hopefully in office, after the 2013 Cornwall Council elections, implement policy that will serve to rectify the housing problem, that will put the people of Cornwall first.

The new government scheme is titled the "Get Britain Building Fund" and will involve £400 million of taxpayers money. It must be noted that this is not a great deal of money for the whole UK, as such don't expect a great deal to be done here in Cornwall but nevertheless this is the money available. The plans are to inject this money into the construction industry to 'kickstart building', in other words to give money to private enterprise and big developers to build houses and continue existing stalled schemes. As a small sop to the actual problems and to gain favourable headlines there will be (as the BBC quotes) "a commitment to affordable homes", it goes on to state:
It is hoped that about 450,000 mainly affordable homes will be built by 2015, many of them on publicly-owned brownfield sites.
Will this be enough? no and here's why. Look around Cornwall today nearly every part of our fair land has had developer led new estates built, the number of affordable units are not nearly enough as the long Cornwall Council waiting list (17,500) shows. The number of young people and young families (and indeed not so young families like my own) that desperately want to own their own homes and are priced out of the market at the moment is staggering and goes to show that letting developers build everywhere does not solve the problem. Developers want to make profit, affordable (cheap) homes are not as profitable as 'unaffordable homes', there's no money in it for them. Thus the majority of newly built estates are 85-95% unaffordable, with the small minority of houses actually cheap enough to help with the housing problem. Time and again we see a new estate built a major impact made upon a community and it's infrastructure and dozens unsuccessfully applying for the handful of affordable homes.

A strong message from the MK conference from both leadership and the floor, was that councils here in Cornwall should be given the funding and borrowing powers to build social housing to directly address the problems here in Kernow. That this housing should be built for local people who need to be housed and at the moment are being failed by the expensive free market solution. The council would then rent out this properties and reinvest any revenue raised into creating more housing stock. That is to say that the state, the public sector, takes responsibility for housing and it is no longer in the hands and whims of developers who want only to make profits. That the poorest, the most vulnerable and the most needy are helped not for profit but because it is the right thing to be done.

Alongside the government policy of writing cheques for private developers they have resurrected the very problem that has beset this generation, the Thatcherite right to buy policy. Again people in publicly owned social housing will be offered the right to buy their home at as little as half the market value. We are told this money will be reinvested in more social housing as usual the governments mathematics here is off and I might suggest to them that policy formulation should leave out the Thatcherism rhetoric and instead include a calculator. For even if we leave aside the rising cost of building, selling one home at half the market value will result in the money to build half a home, halving the housing stock and leaving a poisoned legacy for the next generation. The government fails to grasp such basic things in it's quest to sell things off and absolve itself of any responsibility for the common good. This policy in the eighties has already resulted in the social housing stock in Britain shrinking, it was the start of the unaffordable housing crisis in the first place!

I am sure after long debating about housing yesterday I can sum up the mood of Mebyon Kernow members and what our advice to the government is. This government needs to abandon the old privatisation policies of the past, selling off publicly owned housing is a short sighted solution, developers can not be relied upon to build houses for the common good. The only way to build houses to deal with the problems of affordability is be building them and renting them out on a not for profit basis. Existing housing stock needs to be added too not sold off. This money available should be given to local authorities (in the vein of localism) to build social housing designed specifically to deal with problems in local areas. It ought to be used to build decent housing to provide people with well insulated, green homes, it ought to offer them solar panels and other measures to help with fuel poverty. Cornwall needs a proper solution to the housing crisis, the people need better homes, Mebyon Kernow is fighting for this.