Let's build more homes on brownfield sites

Housing supply isn't keeping up with a growing population

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The Independent Online

We had the house valued last week. Allegedly, it’s risen in value by 30 per cent, despite our buying it as the ‘slump’ began. It should be good news, and it’s certainly better than a depreciation, but no-one is celebrating - apart from the estate agent.

I write ‘slump’, because in our part of west London there hasn’t been one. As the Lib Dems’ argue with each other as to whether or not there is a property market bubble, and if it is confined to London or not, in my area householders and would-be buyers look on bemused – or would if they paid attention to Lib Dem conferences.

The over-heated rental market is no better. Local rents are often higher than the like-for-like mortgage repayments. What do families do? How will our offspring ever be able to afford to live anywhere vaguely local? Small wonder there is a growing trend of children living at home with parents through their 20s. What’s more, many older people would like to ‘downsize’, but to where?

Your heart may not bleed for Londoners. You may be mired in negative equity, or have lost your job and be wondering how you will keep afloat.  However, we are all suffering from the same problem: the lack of any meaningful housing policy other than to cream as much money off homeowners via Stamp Duty and proposed mansion taxes or heap further pressure on the poor via the iniquitous bedroom tax.

The solution to the nation’s housing crisis is so obvious to its population that it seems bizarre to the point of obtuse of our leaders to lack the political will to implement it: build more homes, particularly on brownfield sites.

Last year the Department for Communities and Local Government issued figures for England alone suggesting that of the 62,000 hectares of ‘brownfield’ (or previously developed land) available, roughly half is suitable for house-building, enough for 1.5 million new homes.

Obviously, it is not as simple as that. There are many valid planning restrictions that might lower that total. However, last year new-builds (in England) fell by a shocking 11 per cent to below 100,000. And yet, 300,000-a-year is cited variously as the number required.

A genuine commitment to home-building would represent an immense boon to the construction sector. It would create thousands of new jobs, easing the benefits burden. The alternative, the failure of housing supply to keep up with the rising demand of a growing population, has many wide-ranging social and economic implications, almost all bad.

So, during party conference season, instead of fiddling about with plastic bag taxes, internal party funding and voting structures, how about some real political vision on a subject that really does affect all our lives?

Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of London Live