Walk down your local High Street today and there’s one sight you’re almost certain to see. Hardworking young people, faces pressed against the estate agent’s window, trying and failing to find a house they can afford.
A decent, affordable home is every bit as important to people as good schools and a strong NHS.
But in 2016, most struggle to get a foot in the door of the housing market. The average house costs almost eight times what most people earn in a year. And saving for a deposit is impossible when prices keep rising and half your wages already go on rent. It’s turning us into a divided nation of property haves and have-nots.
That’s bad news for the people at the sharp end, and those who are just about managing to get by. Sky-high property prices also hurt business productivity, as employers find it harder to get skilled workers to move where the jobs are.
The reason housing has become unaffordable for so many is simple: demand is hugely outstripping supply, because Britain isn’t building enough new homes. Things reached a nadir under the last Labour government, where house building fell to levels not seen since the 1920s and the number of first-time buyers dropped by a whopping 55 per cent.
We have come a long way since then – the latest official figures recently showed house building at an eight-year high, and more council housing has been built since 2010 than the Blair and Brown eras put together. But there is still much, much more to be done. We need real action, right now.
That’s why I’m making the public sector turn more of its unused land into housing and to do it more quickly. The Autumn Statement included £2 billion of funding to pilot the large-scale “accelerated construction” techniques, including new modular homes built in a factory and then assembled rapidly on site.
These aren’t the cheap and nasty “pre-fabs” of the past. Think of them as “made to measure and ready to go”, the kind of thing you sometimes see individuals using on Grand Designs. It’s the most popular way to build modern, stylish homes in countries like Germany and Japan. Now it’s going to happen here.
The Autumn Statement also set aside £1.4 billion to get work started on an extra 40,000 affordable homes for hardworking, hard-pressed people who are priced out of the market. And there’s a new £2.3 billion housing infrastructure fund to create the roads, schools, GP surgeries and other infrastructure that will unlock sites for another 100,000 new homes.
In January, I will also be publishing a Housing White Paper that will set out plans to get even more new homes built. And I’ve been very clear with local authorities that I will back them all the way if they put forward robust, well-reasoned, locally-driven plans to get homes built in their area – even if that means making some difficult decisions.
That’s exactly what’s happened in Birmingham, where the council’s local development plan calls for the re-designation of a small area of green belt land. Some people have said that, by allowing this, I’m signalling that the Government is no longer committed to protecting the great British countryside, but they couldn’t be more wrong.
In line with our manifesto commitment, the Government is committed to protecting green belt land and prioritising development on brownfield land. Local authorities are responsible for designating green belt land and only in exceptional circumstances should they alter it. I always want to see brownfield sites used first, which is precisely why we’re also putting more money into bringing neglected parts of towns and cities back to life. We’re creating communities where people will be proud to live, and support building on abandoned urban areas like old factories and car parks.
But it’s not just government that needs to act. We also need the big house builders to step up and do their bit.
At the moment, some of them are failing to put your interests first, hoarding land rather than prioritising building. It’s called “land banking” – not building homes they have permission for so that they can push up demand and prices. That’s not fair on the people of Britain, it’s not fair on smaller building firms, and it’s not good for the economy. It has to stop, or be stopped.
Prices have gone up, ownership has gone down and a whole generation could be left behind if we do nothing. And, as Conservatives, we cannot allow that to happen.
Labour don’t want hardworking people to own their own homes. They’re the party of dependency, of the client state, of social immobility. They see a house as simply as bricks and mortar, nothing more.
But Conservatives know that a house is so much more than that. A house is where you grow up. It’s where you move to when you fly the nest, where you settle down when you meet the one you love. It’s where you have your own kids, where you raise them. And it’s where you grow old, safe, secure and surrounded by the memories of a life well lived.
Conservatives don’t just build houses. We build homes. And it would be a betrayal of every value we hold dear if we deny those homes to the next generation. We owe it to those young people looking in the estate agent window – to our children, and our children’s children – to fix the real problems and help everyone find a home of their own.