Grant Shapps: You Ask The Questions

The Conservative Housing spokesman answers your questions, such as 'How will you cut house prices?' and 'Isn't modern architecture rubbish?'
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The Independent Online

You have advocated greenfield housing development in the past. The Conservatives' Control Shift Green Paper seemed to recognise that the more challenging options of brownfield development and urban regeneration are more beneficial. Where do you stand on this now?

TOM HOLME, Colchester

We're very keen to see the highest possible amount of new build take place on brownfield. We will grant access to the directory of surplus public-sector land to enable the public to identify vacant land that should be available for house-building.

Are inner-city areas and other communities more or less in need of regeneration in 2009 than they were before 1997? How so? JAMES MITCHELL, by email

There has been some good regeneration work done, but it's been patchy. We are passionate about urban and inner-city regeneration. It needs to mean more than just turning up in a neighbourhood with a new regeneration quango whose principal expertise is in bidding for government funds. Real regeneration means transforming quality of life, as well as physical structures. We believe that this can be achieved only when the regeneration is partly led by the community itself. We'll introduce measures to ensure that happens.

Your party has stoked up anti- immigrant fervour by reciting centuries-old propaganda about population bombs. If 88 per cent of our country is untouched by people, why haven't you realised that the problem is too few houses, not too many people? Get building! STEPHANIE CRITTER, by email

I absolutely reject the premise of your question. We absolutely believe that we need more homes in this country. This Labour Government has built fewer homes each and every year – including fewer affordable homes for rent – than in any year of the Thatcher or Major governments. The answer is to move away from the top-down, Soviet-style, targets that this Government insists on pushing from Whitehall.

What can be done to reduce the price of housing? The poor can't afford it, in case you hadn't noticed. LESLIE NAMURA, Warwick

The simple answer is build more homes. Supply has a large part to play in the high house prices and lack of affordability that has blighted the last few years. There is another factor though – and that is the lax system introduced by Gordon Brown in 1997 which encouraged an explosion of mortgage-lending and the availability of 100 or 125 per cent mortgages and self-certification. House prices rocketed, doubling in price in just a few years. Our policy to remove stamp duty will help nine out of 10 first-time buyers.

What measures do you propose to redistribute our population away from the over-crowded South-east? SUSILA PHENG, London

We have a responsibility to create a more balanced economy that isn't over-reliant on financial services and has a broader spread of industry and commerce. One of the world's leading design engineers and entrepreneurs, Sir James Dyson, will head a Conservative Party taskforce looking at how we can make Britain the leading hi-tech exporter in Europe. We will also take practical measures to rebalance the North/South economy by facilitating a completely new ultra high-speed rail link to slash journey times between the two. We also believe that social mobility should lie at the heart of our approach to housing. We have proposed the Right To Move which will enable tenants to transfer from one housing association or council property to another somewhere else in the country.

Why is Vince Cable's mansion tax such a bad idea? If your party knew anything about economics, you'd understand it's good to tax asset bubbles, because speculating on them is what caused this crisis. FAIZAL RAHMAN, Birmingham

The cause of the crisis was Gordon Brown removing power from the Bank of England to call time on banks that continued lending even when their balance sheets couldn't afford it and sending house prices spiralling. The [mansion tax] policy fell apart as it was launched because of the high administration cost, not least having tax inspectors visiting every home worth over £500,000.

If independent economists all agree that the 50p tax will cost us £800m each year, why don't you have the guts to abandon it? NELSON ROMANOV, London

We don't like the 50p top rate of tax, but reversing it will have to take its place in the queue. The first of Labour's tax rises we want to avoid is the tax on jobs – the hike in National Insurance that will hit anyone earning £20,000 or more.

What exactly is your opposition to the very good Lib Dem idea to take those earning less than £10,000 out of income tax? THOMAS BEARD, Taunton

It sounds attractive, but we have to measure this against the historic levels of deficit that this Labour Government has created. It is truly astonishing to realise that when Denis Healey went begging to be International Monetary Fund back in 1976 our deficit was 7 per cent of GDP. Today our deficit is approaching 14 per cent of GDP. Unless we take immediate action, borrowing money to fund that debt will become far more expensive for all of us. So every tax cut will have to be measured against the urgent necessity to get the books back into balance.

Which conservative philosophers do you most admire? NATALIE O'DONOHUE, Coventry

I don't have a favourite conservative philosopher as such and prefer to listen to a broad range of influences – not just from politics. So, for example, I am a fan of Malcolm Gladwell's books (The Tipping Point, Blink), which tend to study human behaviour and have interesting things to say about what motivates us and how we make judgement calls.

Why are there always so many strikes at the end of a Labour government? DENNIS SIMPSON-READ, Luton

It has always seemed to me that Labour run out of power when they have finished running out of spending everyone else's money. We have reached the point where even the unions are fed up with the incompetent way this country is being run and that some of the resultant industrial strife comes about through a sense of lack of direction and drift.

I s there anything about David Cameron and George Osborne's relationship with the Murdoch clan that strikes you as undemocratic? REBECCA CURTIS, Abingdon

No. Newspapers in this country are famously independent of politics. I think it is great that The Sun has decided to back Conservatives, but as far as we're concerned, it isn't the newspaper editors who we need to convince, it is their readers and we will work to gain their trust at the next election and beyond.

Do you have any idea how repulsive it is listening to your millionaire leaders tour the country, preaching gloomily about a broken society? I'm sure it looks broken from where you are. But some of us poor people are getting on just fine. ALAN TRAVERS, Huddersfield

This is not an issue about financial circumstances or relative wealth – it's about the victims of the huge 70 per cent increase in violent crime since Labour came to power. It's about the one in six 18 to 24-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training. And it's about the record low house-building levels and the record high housing waiting lists which have doubled over the past 12 years. Broken Britain isn't just about our indebted economy, it's also about our broken society and broken politics too. Failing to speak out about these problems would be wrong. We must formulate policies to allow everyone to have the same opportunities in life and fix our broken society too.

Isn't most modern architecture crap? What new British buildings do you really admire? DWAYNE NAPIER, Bromley

No, I do not think that is true. Throughout the ages it has always been possible to point to good and bad architecture. However, architects have learned some of the lessons of the past and that there is, on balance, a greater appreciation of good design today. That's not to say that things don't still go horribly wrong, but I could take you to excellent housing developments all over the country – including one called The Forum in Hatfield, in my own constituency, which was just shortlisted for its great design. In terms of a new building I admire, I would pick London's Gherkin as iconic and memorable.