They've built up hopes, but nothing more substantial

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The Independent Online

Labour has been talking about how it is going to solve the housing crisis ever since it came to power. Initially such luminaries as Lord Rogers of Riverside were full of optimism about the Government's commitment to the expansion of social housing, trumpeting such glories as the Excellence in Cities consultation document as the dawn of a glorious new age.

Labour has been talking about how it is going to solve the housing crisis ever since it came to power. Initially such luminaries as Lord Rogers of Riverside were full of optimism about the Government's commitment to the expansion of social housing, trumpeting such glories as the Excellence in Cities consultation document as the dawn of a glorious new age.

Gradually though, as unrealised masterplan followed unrealised masterplan, and disappearing initiative followed disappearing initiative, the enthusiasts have quietly come to the conclusion that the Government can't actually mean what it says at all.

Throughout the Blair era, the modestly waged have found it harder each day to buy or even aspire to buying a decent home, while the wealthy have borrowed freely on the expectations delivered by the non-stop appreciation in the price of their property, often even taking advantage of buy-to-let in order to gain yet more advantage. In housing, above all else, the Blair revolution has been sickeningly disappointing.

So how those who were so excited about John Prescott's early determination to fill the black hole created by years of under-investment in housing, and deliberate debasement of council housing stock, must have flinched yesterday. Gordon Brown's announcement that he had commissioned a report into this extremely pressing matter and was considering its conclusions, was a kick in the teeth.

Seven years down the line, we are asked to believe, it has come to the Chancellor's own personal attention that an eminently probable reason for the endless rise in house prices is that demand very much outstrips supply. Now all we have to do is to think of a way of tackling this knotty difficulty. Everybody knows already that the solution is to build very many more homes.

I don't want to sound cynical. At times in Mr Brown's speech yesterday, as in years before, I found myself thinking that the man was indeed fantastic, a brilliant, clever socialist, whose redistributive instincts were matched only by his ability to silence his carping critics.

He has been tinkering around with Britain's economic structures for quite some time now, usually to the intense irritation of business. Yesterday's Budget though was an indication that he was happy now with his adjustments, and happy too with the big wodge of money he had found by some miraculous sleight of something to continue his dazzling health and education spending spree, without stinting on the handouts everywhere else.

There was even, for a minute or two, a sneaking hope that at last maybe the Government would start getting serious about housing. Then he made it clear that he saw himself merely as an adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister, who has been in charge of the problem all along. Suddenly, the suspicion popped up that this aspect of the Budget at least is something of an illusion.

The ghastly suspicion is that Mr Brown is casting about for ideas because Labour has secretly, reluctantly, come to the conclusion that it challenges the precarious might of the homeowner at its peril. Reports and investigations, in the face of such a clearly defined and easy-to-understand crisis, and on top of investigations that have already been undertaken, smack of one thing only, and that is time-wasting.

The whole housing thing is totally weird. People moan on endlessly about the difficulties of getting on to the housing ladder, and tut-tut sanctimoniously about how awful it is that the next generation in Little Stubbing cannot hope to buy a modest cottage because the city incomers have bought all the property.

But actually, apart from those unfortunates who haven't got on to that wonderfully desirable ladder, very few people actually want the situation to change that much. Those who have owned for a long time love the fact that their home is generating wealth for them.

While rural pressure groups complain with some justification that the locals are being priced out of the housing market, they tend not to admit that it is often locals who are making a killing by selling to the highest bidder rather than the one most essential to the health and happiness of the village.

Further, in cities not just villages, Nimbyism is king. People don't want new housing to be built anywhere at all, even on ugly brownfield sites. Residents would rather see them made into car parks for their convenience than into homes for others who may nick their parking spaces.

For those who managed to achieve their expensive property more recently, the desire for things to stay as they are is more frantic and less reprehensible. These owners dread the prospect of their property ending up being worth less than they paid for it. It is hard to see how a massive house-building programme could be undertaken without creating quite a number of such casualties.

Is this what Mr Brown is considering? How to provide "affordable homes" without devaluing other modest but inflated property. I fear that he might be, and that his quest is an impossible one. Many new homes must be built, and the government that builds them will find themselves loved for their trouble only by a needy minority. No amount of time-wasting can change this basic fact.

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