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Opinion: The clock is ticking

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Opinion: The clock is ticking

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government

clock clock

By John Cross, director, John Cross Consulting

As we fast approach the European elections my mind in is already jumping ahead to May 2015. I am normally a great optimist but even I am beginning to worry about the future, particularly from a housing perspective.

So what is feeding this pessimism that I am feeling?

At one level it is the superficiality of the debates coming from our political leaderships. My despair was compounded by the recent Labour Party’s election broadcast that reminded me more of an un-funny Spitting Image sketch than an opposition party trying to influence a sophisticated electorate to vote for them.

The policy debate on housing is once again missing. My single ray of optimism is that we appear to have a concensus across all the political parties that we do have a housing problem. Not quite a “Kathy Come Home” moment but at least a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately that is where my optimism ends.

We continue seeing initiatives outlined to us. Ed Miliband’s recent announcement on the private rented sector follows Nick Clegg’s garden city initiative. Laudable initiatives but no vision, no strategy, no meaningful consensus.

The most worrying aspect of this is that this remains the position we have been in throughout my 30-year housing career. We have consistently lacked a long-term housing strategy. As politicians introduce initiative after initiative, housing supply falls and our housing crisis grows.

It has been 10 years since Kate Barker’s housing supply review for the then New Labour government. It highlighted the need for increased supply on a long-term basis. Providing over 200,000 new homes each year was the minimum. My hope was that this might be a precursor to a sustained attack on the under-supply issue was soon dashed and we have not got near hitting that target since.

We know that austerity measures will not be disappearing in the next parliament. Investment will need to be tightly controlled and has to be wisely made. Despite austerity, the planned investment of more than £40bn in HS2 and policy decisions around energy supplies shows that we can still make big, long-term decisions to invest public money and encourage private finance as well .

Transportation and the utility industries all need long-term and sustained investment. We rightly recognise that and have put in place a framework that enables that investment of public and private monies. This framework ensures we have a reasonably effective transport network and the energy supplies needed for our homes and businesses to flourish - but we don’t do that for our housing supply.

Housing is part of our national infrastructure and needs to be considered as such in our investment planning. A national housing strategy needs to be built based upon a political consensus. It would give us, in the housing and construction industry, the confidence to plan and invest because we know there is a clear and agreed direction of travel being followed. I think it would help unlock the pension and other investment funds. Critically I believe it would mean more homes, more jobs, more opportunities for those “hard-working families” the politicians crave support from.

Building a cross-party political consensus can be done – the Olympics is a prime example. If we are to tackle the housing crisis, it has to be done.

Our challenge it to get our politicians to listen and they are more likely to listen if we in the housing and construction industry had a common voice. We have a bit of time to build that common voice and start shouting it from the roof-tops in the way that ‘Kathy Come Home’ did in the 1960s. For ‘generation rent’ we have to hope that it is heard in Whitehall.

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