End the housing shortage? Declare war

Is it time to declare war on the shortage of housing?

Or, perhaps more accurately, to declare that the housing shortage deserves an utterly non-partisan approach by politicians, as happens when the country goes to war?

That thought has been encouraged by the BBC's acquisition of leaked documents. They show that the final set of housing figures to be released before the spring 2015 general election will probably show a FALL in house-building of some four per cent.

This is despite the current government's measures to simplify and accelerate planning, despite incentives to local communities such as the New Homes Bonus, despite the introduction of perks to encourage the purchase of new build property - including Help To Buy part one, of course - and despite frequent pronouncements from private builders that output is growing, along with profits and asking prices.

Yet despite all of that, the leaked documents contain one damning sentence: "DCLG expect a decrease in the number of houses started this year: down from 133,650 in 2013/2014 to circa 128,000 in 2014/2015 (-4%)."

The issues to be addressed to remedy this are obvious, and tediously familiar to anyone with the slightest interest in housing.

Here we go: land banks, still-too-slow planning consent, overhelming NIMBYism, a failure of councils to build the 'one-for-one' replacement council houses after Right To Buy sales, and so on and so on.

But despite widespread acknowledgement that those are the issues to be addressed, there is much less consensus on HOW to address them.

So how about this idea?

Why doesn't David Cameron make a public announcement saying that, as is the political custom in the case of war, the shortage of housing is so momentous that he is to draw together all party leaders to try to arrive at a consensus.

Or why doesn't Ed Miliband (after his brave - if not altogether well thought-out - intervention in the rental sector) suggest the same to Cameron, Clegg et al?

The modern Labour and Conservative parties are mere shadows of their former selves with little by way of philosophy and a devotion to pragmatism: so the ground for any one party to move to win agreement with others is actually quite small

Imagine the consequence.

No longer would local politicians be afraid of supporting housing schemes for fear of losing NIMBY votes - because their opponents would also support them.

No longer would one party be afraid to tackle any land bank glut for fear of losing house builders' donations - because all parties would have the same view.

No longer would one party routinely criticise others on house-building levels - because they would share responsibility, supporting a greater need, as in war.

Am I whistling in the wind? Of course.

Remember that after the coalition deal was struck following the 2010 general election, the very last ministerial post to be announced was that of housing. And then, of course, the post did not deserve cabinet status.

With that recent history, I'm not seriously expecting anything better this time round.

But if the political will for a consensus is so strong as to abandon petty in-fighting at times of national conflict, why is the political will so intransigent now when a country's own people are lacking something as basic as housing?

It doesn't have to be this way.

It's only the politicians, it seems, who secretly appear to like a shortage of homes.

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