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George Clarke has some helpful suggestions for our next Prime Minister

So, here we go again. Another leadership contest between two contenders fighting it out to be the next Prime Minister of the country. Boris has now become ineffective and has virtually disappeared. The invisible PM.

Either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak will be named as the next leader of the Conservative Party on September 5th and will walk through the doors of 10 Downing Street the following day.

Truss or Sunak will remain in the top job until the next general election, which is currently set for December 2024.

From September 2022 to They will be a sitting Prime Minister with no mandate from the British Public, so it is inevitable that an early general election will be called well before the December 2024 date. 

Of course, a new Prime Minister is going to face some enormous challenges. Problems overseas such as the war in the Ukraine, rising gas and oil prices and issues with global supply chains aren’t necessarily the fault of our government.

The government unfortunately can’t fix everything. But, there are worrying things happening abroad that the British Government can’t ignore.

I’ve just heard that the German government have made the decision to turn off the lights on all public buildings, monuments and statues and they are also turning off the hot water in all public swimming pool shower rooms to save gas and electricity.

And that’s just for starters. I can see more restrictions being brought into place to reduce our dependence on fossil-fuels from other states. It is a sign of things to come for us all unless we find better, more stable, and greener ways of heating our buildings and our hot water. 

Every government for the last 30 years has completely failed to solve the housing crisis

George Clarke George Clarke Architect, writer, TV presenter and Ecodan Ambassador

3 million already in poverty

Scientists have also stated in the last week that the recent scorching heat waves across the UK and Europe were definitely caused by humans polluting the earth and raising global temperatures.

If that isn’t a frightening sign of things to come, I don’t know what is! 

So, it may be difficult to blame some overseas problems on the UK government, but the massive problems we are facing at home at the moment are very much their fault.

The cost-of-living crisis is frightening. Prices are going through the roof, and this is going to push so many more people into poverty.

We already had over 3.1 million households in fuel poverty before the enormous price increases this year.

I dread to think how many more families will fall into poverty over the next 2-3 years and how much worse it is going to get for those 3.1 million households already in fuel poverty.

Billions of profit

Coincidentally, as I’m writing this paragraph it has just been announced on BBC news that BP have just made their second highest quarterly profit in its entire corporate history; £6.9BN of profit made from April to June of this year!

How the hell can BP make profits like that while the British public are being battered with rising fuel prices? BP defend this by saying they will be paying £1BN in tax on those profits, but what difference is that really going to make to a family unable to pay their next energy bill? 

Everyone is going to be affected by the cost-of-living crisis, but it is those who are already struggling who are going to be hit the hardest and the government are doing very little to help.

For me, this is unforgivable, and it just shows how disconnected some of our elite cabinet are from ordinary people.

Owning a home

We live in a country now where people have to work harder for less. There are nearly 1 million people working on zero hours contracts. Young people are being battered when it comes to housing and getting on the property ladder. 

Just yesterday I filmed with a couple who had just given up on a housing system that has completely failed them. They’ve been in rental accommodation for years, where their rent has been pushed up at the end of every tenancy, to the point where it has become unaffordable.

They have been unable to personalise their rental apartment because the landlord won’t allow them to and why would they bother anyway as they may get kicked out of the flat at the end of a short tenancy?

They were so frustrated that they were working so hard to pay off someone else’s mortgage, while at the same time, because of increasing rents, they were unable to save for a deposit to buy their own place.

To be honest, they said it was actually impossible for them to buy their own home in the areas where they worked as a teacher and care worker. They looked into every alternative, even attempting to buy a small plot of land to try and build their own, more affordable self-build home.

But, they soon discovered there was very little land available on the open market and what was available was insanely over-priced and completely unaffordable for them. 

Take out the land

So what have they done?

They took the land completely out of the equation and bought a tiny narrow boat, instead of a conventional house, for just £15,000.

They never imagined they would ever live on a boat, but after years of searching at every possible alternative, it turned out to be the only way for them to be able to afford their own home.

Through sheer hard work and determination doing most of the work themselves, they spent £8,000 making their narrow boat into a beautiful and very personal small-scale home.

They also have the wonderful option of being able to take their new home wherever they want along the British canals, moor up in either towns, cities or the remote countryside as their mood and lifestyle suits them.

You could see the relief and pride on their face yesterday when they were finally able to say “we now have a home of our own”. 

Ok, the downside is that boats tend to go down in value over the years rather than increase in value the way conventional homes do.

But the couple were very aware of this and didn’t mind at all, because they know their new way of life is a a more stable and more affordable way of life than being in private rental accommodation, which doesn’t make them any money anyway.

A few suggestions

Taking all of this into account, I’m sure any regular reader of this blog will know that I’ve said a thousand times that every government for the last 30 years has completely failed to solve the housing crisis. In fact, they have all made it worse!

I’ve also said that every government has failed to have a long-term plan to turn our shocking crisis around.

So here are a few suggestions id like to give to Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak for them to be able to help the people they serve when it comes to housing.

Some of these suggestions are quick and easy to achieve. Some will take a longer, hence a long-term plan:

  1. Accept that the Tory policy of getting everyone in the volubly into home ownership is never going to work because it is simply unaffordable. I would love it if every person or family in the UK owned their own home, but its never going to happen.
  2. If they accept this then the government needs to provide alternative forms of housing at scale that are under tightly controlled affordable rents with long-term stable tenancies. The private rental sector does not provide this.
  3. Therefore, the government needs to build state-owned housing that becomes an asset to the country.
  4. Therefore, the government needs to end Right To Buy and should stop selling off state housing at a huge discount to buy votes.
  5. The government and the banks need to begin to provide more affordable 50-year mortgages based on 10 times income. If the mean average salary for all UK workers is £31,285 and the average house price is £290,000 then you don’t have to be an amazing mathematician to work out how mortgages have to change. 
  6. Free up more land (especially government/council owned land) for young people to self-build small-scale starter homes. This should be done at scale. In so many other countries self-building your own home is possible because small-scale, individual plots are available to buy at affordable prices on large-scale developments where all of the infrastructure has been put in place. In the UK, being able to buy an affordable plot of land to self-build your own small-scale home is virtually impossible.
  7. Retrofit and make ecologically fit every existing home in Britain. That means high levels of insulation, double or even triple glazing and air source heat pumps installed into every home in the country. Too many of our existing homes leak heat. The latest government data shows that draughts cause 25% of all heat loss from the average house. That means a quarter of our ever-more-expensive gas bill is disappearing through cracks and gaps in doors, holes around water pipes and gaps around old window frames. Every Retrofit, green deal-style policy announced by government has completely failed. This is a complete failure of government and is unacceptable.
  8. Gas boilers have been banned on all new build house from 2025. That will only over 1% of the total housing stock in Britain. The government should ban ALL gas and oil-fired boilers on ALL EXISTING HOMES by 2032. That gives everyone 10 years to make the adjustment to renewable forms of home heating. 10 years is also regarded as the efficient lifespan of a gas boiler. So, 2032 would be a good time for everyone to change.
  9. Make VAT 0% on all ecological home improvements.
  10. Reduce the governments dependence of the super-sized big profit-making housebuilders. Yes, the giant housebuilders have an important role to play in delivering new housing, but they are beginning to have a monopoly on the housing system. Cheapest and fastest isn’t always best.
  11. Radically improve the building regulations to make every new-build home the greenest it can possibly be, making all new-build housing developments in the UK the envy of the world.
  12. End Homelessness. Finland has achieved this through it’s ‘Housing First’ concept so why cant we?

Cross-party agreement

To make all of this happen it would be a good idea to get the new PM, all ministers and civil servants associated with housing, along with all Members of Parliament from ALL parties in a room to get a CROSS-PARTY CONSENSUS AND AGREEMENT on as many of these suggestions as possible.

So, instead of housing being a political football that is kicked around from pillar to post to the terrible detriment of society, a ‘UK HOUSING AGREEMENT’ between all parties would ensure that a long-term plan will actually work and industry can then work to that plan in order to deliver it.

The days of turbulent, all too regular and disruptive poor policy changes to the housing industry, which mess everyone around to the point that no targets are reached, should be over.

Bad, short-term, and short-sighted decisions that are then changed again and again and again by the revolving door of housing ministers has completely broken the housing system.

The current housing system in Britain simply does not work and is not fit for purpose.

The next PM has to fix this.

The people of this country deserve better and if the government really wants to finally solve the ever-worsening housing crisis then it needs to be very, very radical.

Not next year, or the year after, but from the 5th of September 2022! 

I hope Liz and Rishi listen and act because time is running out (or has already run out!) for so many in Britain.

George Clarke is an Architect, writer, TV presenter and Ecodan Ambassador