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Housing: A Priority For Our New PM

Tony Abel 1 sm

Whatever you think of our new prime minster and her cabinet team, it is very good news that we finally have a government which can make some decisions and to a certain extent remove the feeling of uncertainty which has dogged us in the past few weeks, writes Tony Abel.

Among the many things on Mrs May’s to-do-list will be mitigating the UK’s undoubted housing crisis. Her initial comments on the subject are encouraging. In a speech in Birmingham, she said that it was important to give people more opportunity: “It is why housing matters so much, and why we need to do far more to get more houses built. Because unless we deal with the housing deficit, we will see house prices keep on rising. Young people will find it even harder to afford their own home.”

As with many of her pronouncements, if she means what she says, she needs to back up those fine words with a real commitment to more new homes being built, supported by some concrete actions to help those who will be responsible for delivering those new homes.

The most common objection to new homes being built which is voiced in the community is a perception of inadequate infrastructure and facilities. Capacity of doctors surgeries is often cited as a concern, as is foul and surface water drainage.

It’s all very well for politicians to say that more houses should be built (and they are right), but the government must drag along appropriate support for the new communities which will be created. It’s no help easing the planning system if councils, local services and other bodies are too stretched and/or underfunded to deal with them.

Yes, the government must tackle the bureaucracy associated with planning, but they must also assist the various agencies that are inadequately resourced to respond properly. The privately-owned utilities also need the government's attention: Anglian Water and BT are classic examples of big organisations that are extremely difficult to communicate with, and which often fail to fulfil their obligations in a timely manner. 

We are told so often about ongoing infrastructure issues which are not promptly resolved and I would urge the government to place emphasis on ensuring that these organisations are held accountable for their performance and that sufficient investment is made to their existing infrastructure.

Building societies, lawyers, land registry, architects, engineers and contractors are all stretched - so there is more to it than tweaking the planning system. Most important of all is the ability for buyers to borrow at sensible interest rates (which we have now) and for associated buying costs to be kept to a minimum, such as stamp duty.

Teresa May might feel that there are more important issues to tackle, but housing is something which affects everyone, and she needs to take the time to look at the issue globally.