To have a broom cupboard of one's own: why solving the housing crisis is not an impossible dream

Home ownership peaked a decade ago when 70.9 per cent of households owned their own home; that is now down to 66 per cent and shrinking fast.


There is something refreshing about Nick Boles: a Conservative minister and son of a former chairman of the National Trust who is prepared to declare open season on Nimbys to promote more house-building. Alone among ministers, Boles has appreciated that the inability of the young to afford to buy a home is going to be one of the biggest political issues over the next few years. Home ownership peaked a decade ago when 70.9 per cent of households owned their own home; that is now down to 66 per cent and shrinking fast.

The hypocrisy of many of those who oppose new house-building was demonstrated by Simon Jenkins, who debated with Boles on Wednesday’s Newsnight. Jenkins’s solution is to pile more people on top of each other in poky flats in existing cities. As Boles was quick to assert, a man who owns at least two homes should not talk down to people who cannot afford to buy one. We are in danger of returning to a Victorian social structure, in which a large unpropertied class is forced to rent its homes from a small class of landowners.

Yet for someone so brave and precise at diagnosing the problem, Boles has come up with a disappointingly weak solution. His big idea is to bribe communities to drop their opposition to new housing with the promise of money for new community facilities, paid for by the new community infrastructure levy (CIL), a tax on house-building paid by developers.

Communities are already bribed in this way. My own village has a spanking new tennis court built partly courtesy of money from “section 106” agreements: an informal levy on house-builders which has existed for several decades. In any case, the current low rates of house-building have far more to do with the shortage of mortgage finance than problems with planning delays. There are already 487,000 plots with planning permission – 246,000 where building has not yet begun – but developers don’t want to build on them because they don’t think they could find the buyers.

Opening the countryside to the bulldozers didn’t do Spain and Ireland much good; they suffered inflationary booms in house prices in spite of having lax planning policies. It is cheap money, more than shortage, which drives a property boom.

If we want to reverse the inflation that is causing home-ownership to fall, we have to eliminate the speculation. There is an easy way to do this: by imposing on most new homes restrictive covenants which limit them to being bought by owner-occupiers. Such covenants are already used to limit properties in some areas to being used as holiday lets or second homes. If most new homes were limited for owner-occupation, they could not be scooped up by investors as “buy-to-let” or, worse still, “buy-to-leaves” – where speculators leave properties empty because they calculate that the rental income would not exceed the loss in value from scuff marks that tenants might leave on the kitchen worktops.

The community infrastructure levy is part of the problem, not the solution: in some areas it will add £40,000 to the cost of building a new four-bedroom property. Excessive environmental legislation, too, is adding unnecessary cost to house-building. New homes should be required to have excellent insulation, but by 2016 the building regulations will go far further, demanding that all new homes be carbon neutral. Nick Boles’s own department (Planning) has estimated that these regulations will add £38,000 – 50 per cent – to the cost of building a four-bedroom home. And yet, strangely, it does not seem to have worked out the consequences: that the extra costs will drive developers to concentrate – even more than they do already – on building small numbers of luxury properties where the costs can more easily be absorbed.

This trend is already very evident: between 2010 and 2011 – when the housing market as a whole was static – the average selling price of a Redrow Home climbed from £154,800 to £174,100. We will see more affordable housing for buyers only if the cosy little monopoly enjoyed by the established house-builders is broken. This could be achieved if development corporations were set up to compulsory-purchase land at agricultural value, grant it planning permission and then auction it off in lots of various sizes, giving individuals and small developers a chance to build homes, too. Compulsory purchase would eliminate the need for the CIL, as the uplift in land value generated by the granting of planning permission would be captured for the public good rather than, as now, for private profit. Of course, even with reform to bring down the real cost of housing, not everyone will want, or be able, to become a homeowner.

For this group, renting desperately needs to be made friendlier. We have gone from a situation 25 years ago when landlords dared not let out properties for fear that the tenant would be there for life to one where tenants in privately rented properties have no security of tenure for more than a few months.

Tenancy law should be changed to reflect the fact that for most tenants a property is their home, while for the landlord it is just another investment. A tenant who has paid rent on time and looked after a property should be granted the right to renew a shorthold tenancy for up to three years. Tenants who want to move out, however, should be required to give the landlord only two months’ notice.

Many of these proposals may seem politically difficult at present, when a large number of voters still see high house prices as a virtue, and their homes as a big part of their pension funds. But with home ownership plummeting, there will soon come a time when the growing constituency of young people frozen out of the housing market politically overwhelms the vested interests who want to keep house prices high.

‘A Broom Cupboard of One’s Own: the Housing Crisis and How to Solve It’ by Ross Clark is published as an ebook by Harriman House

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power