I’ve been following Channel 4’s Great British Property Scandal with interest this week. It’s pressed home some important points about how bringing empty homes back into use could help tackle the housing shortage. Many in the media will sit up and take notice of the issue following the programmes and the stories they have thrown up, which has to be a good thing.
One scheme I am familiar with in Swindon will be featured as part of the series as a positive example of what can be done to address the problem. The Triangle, delivered by Kevin McCloud’s Hab Oakus, is set to feature in his Grand Designs documentaries.
I remember attending an event with partners and housing minister Grant Shapps to mark the start of work on the site in May last year. That feels like an age ago. I look forward to seeing it featured now it is complete.
I was interested to read the renewed criticism of council newsletters this week, with Grant Shapps saying people should report authorities who they think are wasting public money on needless publications to the district auditor.
In PR Week (which has a firewall, so no point in providing a link), he is reported to have criticised Labour councils for continuing to publish weekly newsletters, despite Government guidelines which suggest a limit of four publications a year.
Encouraging support for ‘self builders’ was signalled by the Government today, with Grant Shapps articulating his strong belief that helping more people to build their own homes could be the answer to the country’s housing crisis.
His speech today at ‘Grand Designs Live 2011′ outlined Shapps’ vision for self build (which doesn’t necessarily mean ‘build your own’) to become a mainstream housing option. He wants the Government (and the HCA, as a major landowner) to play a part by making available publicly owned land to people to build their own homes.
He also mentioned a project I am familiar with (and blogged about as being one to watch last year) in Bristol, where the Community Self Build Agency is leading the development of accommodation for homeless ex-servicemen and offering those same people vital training on the construction project. Although this project is not being built on public land, and would not be happening without financial support from the HCA, it remains a fine example of the very best of what the Government wants to achieve.
I blogged recently about considering self build for my family. As I continue to read about the pitfalls and risks involved, announcements like today’s are welcome. It won’t help us get the finance together, find a decent plot or a trusted builder, but it may stabilise the housing market stabilise by bringing a greater number of ‘small time’ builders into the game. This can only be good for those people who can’t get onto the housing ladder.
Besides, I don’t suppose it would be called ‘self build’ if someone else had to do everything for you. But if one of the publicly owned plots the Government releases to self builders happens to be in Temple Cloud, that really would be a bonus.
I remember the feeling as a reporter when I wrote about workers who were taking action over what they perceived to be bad wages, and would realise they were paid more than me.
I’m reminded of this today when I hear of measures aimed at helping young families onto the housing ladder and the need to address the country’s housing crisis. I am not debt ridden, or badly paid. But when Grant Shapps talks of young families who are caught in a pincer movement between the paucity of available credit, high housing prices and the substantial deposits needed to get decent mortgages, it feels like he could be talking about me.
I was up at the crack of dawn today to travel to Plymouth, where the city council hosted a day’s session with partners to help it map out its housing strategy.
Having witnessed the scores of partners in attendance, listened to intelligent, high-profile speakers and seen some amazing regeneration taking place, I left feeling impressed and energised by the the city’s ambition.
Attendees included some of the South West’s leading housing figures and the city’s two MPs, Alison Seabeck and Oliver Colvile. They heard from Grant Shapps’ parliamentary aid Jake Berry MP, Chartered Institute of Housing’s deputy chief executive Richard Capie and my colleague Colin Molton about the challenges and opportunities facing local communities.
Housing Minister Grant Shapps’ pledge in The Observer to deliver some stability to Britain’s housing market will come as welcome news to millions of people who can not afford to get a foot on the ladder.
In making the case for a cultural shift in the way Britons view their property investment, Mr Shapps is stating what many people who do not own their home have been aware of for years: that the current status quo should not be allowed to continue.
The facts in the South West, which has some of the highest house prices and lowest household incomes of any area in the country, are stark. In some areas, house prices are more than 15 times the average annual salary. Holding down two jobs is clearly not going to be enough in this case; 12 may just about do it.
I welcome the recognition that house prices can not be allowed to sky-rocket as they have done in the past, even if it is acknowledged that the Government can not set the cost of home ownership in this country. There are other elements to this complex issue, however. A focus on increasing and diversifying supply, creating a well-regulated and effective private rental sector as an alternative to home ownership and improving access to mortgage finance can all help in this area.
That’s a big set of challenges, but I know plenty of people in the sector who are up for playing their part in addressing them.