An interesting discussion at the Housing Hustings Last night.
Scrapping plans to extend right-to-buy –
It was good to hear both Julian Huppert and Daniel Zeichner unequivocally state their commitment to scrapping the Conservatives’ plans to extend right to buy. Mark Wainright representing the Green Party was equally clear on this. Chamali Fernando was let off having to explain her parties’ intentions & it was disappointing to see Patrick O Flynn vacillating on this issue. O Flynn cautioned his colleagues on the panel about the risk of ‘owner occupier’ MPs ‘talking down’ to those in social housing. Yes right to buy has been a vote winner historically. But what all parliamentary candidates need to understand at this point in time is that extending right to buy is economically illiterate and frankly immoral. It will only serve to exacerbate the housing crisis until we’re building enough homes to keep pace with demand.
Building more homes –
Unsurprisingly the need to build more homes is something that all candidates agree on. Julian Huppert puts the figure at 225,000 new homes per year that need to be built UK-wide just to keep pace with demand. There are a range of aims in terms of what the different parties think it’s realistic to achieve on this front. Mark Wainwright says the Green Party aim is to build 500,000 homes over the course of the next parliament (i.e. 100,000 per year). The Lib Dem aim is to be building 300,000 per year. Labour’s Daniel Zeichner suggests that 200,000 new homes per year by the end of the next parliament is a more realistic ambition.
There are a number of ways this building programme can be helped. Julian Huppert and Daniel Zeichner agree about the need to amend treasury rules that prevent councils borrowing against existing housing stock in order to finance the building of more council housing.
There are also a number of less conventional ways new housing can be developed. It was great to hear a member of the audience advocating the benefits of the cooperative housing model. There are currently two housing co-ops in Cambridge, Argyle Street Housing and Paradise Housing, the latter being a women’s only co-operative. Both have operated successfully for over 30 years. Argyle Street Housing is actively seeking to work with the City Council to promote more cooperative housing as an option for Cambridge.
Cambridge Living Future Community is an example of another alternative. CLFC is a community land trust taking advantage of the new right to build legislation to develop an eco village outside Cambridge. One of the benefits of this type of project is that it will build a community as well as houses.
How big should Cambridge grow?
The question ‘how big should Cambridge grow’ provoked an interesting discussion. Julian Huppert argued that Cambridge benefits from being the size it is – it’s a place where people know each other, not so big that it suffers from the sense of anonymity that can develop in a big city. But Cambridge is growing – Chamali Fernando suggests our city is set to double in size in the next 5 – 10 years. To me this is a compelling argument for greater investment in the artistic and cultural life of Cambridge. We need to ensure that Cambridge has a thriving cultural life to match it’s scientific and technical expertise.
An appeal to younger generations –
The housing crisis is a generational issue. For at least two decades – probably more – the tax system has favoured home ownership and governments have allowed house prices to rise because it’s meant homeowners have become wealthier. Combined with a huge shortfall in the number of houses being built, this policy has been storing up trouble for the future. When we say ‘a generation has been priced out of housing’ we actually mean at least two generations and more to come. Politics must urgently attend to the housing needs of these generations. We need to make sure our voices can’t be ignored.