Mark Leftly: It’s easy to set targets for homes, much harder to set them in stone


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The Independent Online

Westminster Outlook He may not be a mad-eyed, drug-fuelled, alcohol-soaked loudmouth with an axe to grind and an axe in his hand, but Tim Farron is the closest thing to a rock star that the Liberal Democrats have got. A 44-year-old fell running enthusiast, who has made his name with a folksy turn of language, he couldn’t walk a couple of yards at this month’s Lib Dem conference in Glasgow without being mobbed for selfies, autographs or a chat.

Long considered a frontrunner to succeed Nick Clegg, Mr Farron has nevertheless suffered from accusations that there is a lack of substance behind his wholesome style. He tried to add some policy muscle to his lean frame this month with a proposal to build 300,000 new homes every year, partly through the creation of a housing investment bank. It was a detailed motion and was supported by the Business Secretary Vince Cable. Similarly, the Labour leader Ed Miliband yesterday set out his own commitment to building 200,000 homes a year by 2020, fundamentally altering the market by giving priority access to local first-time buyers when the new homes go on sale.

Where I take issue with both of them is the targets. In 2013 we built only 122,590 homes, which was actually a six-year high; the 425,000 peak was reached 46 years ago.

Housebuilding promises come and go; they are forgotten as governments quietly miss targets that were pretty much plucked out of the air in the first place. It is almost certain that however well-meaning and well-researched these latest targets may be, they will be missed as well.

Here’s an example. Labour’s housing review, conducted by Sir Michael Lyons, states that more homes would be built by getting smaller housebuilders “back into business”. Okay, as the economy rebounds, that may well happen, but the reality is this is a market where larger housebuilders are constantly looking at mergers and acquisitions.

As soon as one or two are successful, they will be there to gobble up these smaller rivals. That means cost savings and merged departments, which ultimately results in fewer houses being built.

These targets are not real, they are simply adornments.