Has the Conservative Party made the housing crisis worse?

The government was elected in 2019 on an ‘unrealistic’ pledge to build 300,000 homes a year

Michael Gove
Michael Gove has tried to grasp the ‘hot potato’ of housing with his Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill
(Image credit: Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images)

“It’s almost as if the Tories have a death wish,” said James Forsyth in The Times. For years, they’ve failed to tackle the lack of affordable housing in the UK, particularly for younger people, though it poses a profound threat to their party. House prices have risen by 20% since 2020. “The average age of a first-time buyer today is 34; in the 1990s it was 29.”

Since homeowners are much more likely than renters to vote Conservative, the Tories should be doing everything they can to boost home ownership. This Government was in fact elected in 2019 on a pledge to build 300,000 homes a year, but efforts to relax planning rules by former housing minister Robert Jenrick turned out badly: a backbench revolt and a “thumping defeat” in the Chesham and Amersham by-election that was blamed on the issue led the Tories to back off.

Now Michael Gove has again tried to grasp this “hot potato” with his Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. But it’s hardly a radical overhaul. It will leave most planning rules intact, while trying to make new developments more attractive, in the hope that local people will support them.

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So far, the Tories have actually made the crisis worse, said Jonn Elledge in The New Statesman. “Help to Buy” chucked money at the market without raising supply, so it did little except heat up house prices. And Gove’s proposals (which would apply only in England) are “useless”. He’s promising to look again at “right to buy” for housing association tenants – though it’s the majority of renters in private accommodation who really need help. He also wants to introduce “street votes”, giving residents a chance to propose new developments, and vote on whether they should go ahead – which “looks like a Nimby’s charter”.

Gove was wise to retreat from Jenrick’s plan, said The Daily Telegraph – it would have zoned whole areas for development, imposing new estates on reluctant communities. What he should do now is “free up the market” with policies such as cutting stamp duty for older people seeking to downsize.

The target of 300,000 homes was never realistic, said John Rentoul on The Independent. Gordon Brown failed to meet his pledge to build 240,000 a year. David Cameron promised 200,000, and Theresa May 300,000; they both failed too.

So how should the “never-endingly intractable” problem of housing be tackled, asked Rowan Moore in The Observer. The private sector has proved itself “incapable”. So the Government must step in, by identifying where new homes are needed, locating land, providing infrastructure and backing good designs. This could be done at little or no cost, as it can compulsorily purchase land and sell it at a profit to developers. “No one should pretend that any of this is easy. It is fantasy to think that the competing interests of people who own homes and those who are desperate for somewhere to live can be reconciled.” But the Conservatives deserve “electoral oblivion” if they don’t even try.

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