Why Do Politicos Ignore Housing?

The Lib Dems didn’t return my calls last week. Twice.

Their indifference – I was trying to find their view on HIPs for an Estates Gazette story – seems a symbol of how little British politicians care about housing these days.

Most have headline-grabbing views on peripheral aspects (‘localism’, ‘garden grabbing’ and HIPs...Lib Dems please note) but although the Conservatives in particular are making a lot of promises on reform, there are no really big plans on housing standards or numbers.

No one is mentioning apprentices to improve our national building skills. Who is talking – really, seriously talking – about releasing public land for new homes?

It is many years since housing and planning were big issues for politicians, and the current party leaders appear to have no intention of bigging them up now.

In 13 years of Labour there have been 10 housing ministers from powerful figures like John Prescott to recent lightweights. HIP laws pleased no one; opposition came from conservative-minded estate agents across the spectrum to Which?

Now housing targets, an early litmus test of Gordon Brown’s leadership, have been quietly forgotten along with the regional planning concept. Presumably Labour hopes no one notices their disappearance in the build up to the spring vote.

The Conservatives have pledges to localise planning but have given so few details that even the conservative property establishment is laughing. A Savills presentation to journalists in December ended with senior figures having a not-so-discreet pop at the Tories. Pledges on HIPs, sizes and garden-grabbing are popular in the industry - but do not add up to more homes.

The smaller parties suffer from being, well, smaller. Just look for housing policies on the Liberal Democrat, Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru websites and you just get pious statements promising more affordable homes. So why on earth don’t these people tell us HOW they wish to achieve that?

The reality is that since Margaret Thatcher effectively privatised housing in 1979 with Right to Buy and stigmatising renting, no party has wanted to ‘own’ housing issues.

It seems as if releasing land for private homes or funding councils to build their own houses are simply too ‘marginal’ to be worthy of serious attention. Look at party websites, read leaders’ speeches – housing and planning have not been heard.

Do we deserve better? I think so. And if any Lib Dems read this, I’m standing by my ‘phone…

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