George Clarke looks at what the parties promise for housing

The general election is this week. I think we can all agree that this is the most important election for a generation, possibly even longer.

Since the Brexit referendum on the 23rd June 2016 (yes over 3 years ago!) very little else has been talked about in Britain. It has completely consumed politicians and the media to the point where so many other problems that the country is facing have been ignored. 

I’ve never known such political in-fighting, such division, such anger and such parliamentary incompetence.

Some say that this is parliamentary democracy at its best with the Brexit bill being challenged every step of the way with amendment after amendment, but I’m not sure I believe that.

All I see is a staggeringly low-level of intelligent political debate and staggeringly high-level of political selfishness.

Britain is in breach of Human Rights in its inability to providing adequate housing for everyone. That is a disgrace.

George Clarke George Clarke TV presenter and architect

Uncertainty and division

Since the referendum there are two things that have caused an enormous amount of damage to the image and reputation of Britain.

First, the uncertainty. Uncertainty brings instability. Instability creates chaos. The inability of the government to provide political and economic certainty has had a negative effect on everything.

Certainty brings prosperity as everyone from a shop-keeper to a banker broadly knows that the country is stable and they can plan ahead in a confident manner. We’ve not had that in 3 years and the country has paid a high price. But, hopefully uncertainty can be easily repaired.

The second issue is more worrying. Division.

I’ve never seen the country more divided in my life and that is going to take many years to fix. We may never be able to repair it.

Worse still members of parliament have fuelled this division, sometimes using a tone of language I thought was beneath those who are supposed to serve the people not divide them. Fear has been used to divide and to gain political advantage.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that when I write a blog like this I’m neutral. You won’t get any sense of me being a remainer or a leaver, nor will you know exactly who I’ll be voting for this Thursday (although you may be able to guess!). I write these blogs in the most impartial way, making sure we hold all political parties to account to do the right thing and this month’s blog will, in a moment, look at the housing manifestos for the Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dem’s and the Greens.

The ‘B’ word

But first, let me say this. When it comes to Brexit, I promise you it will all be fine. It really will.

Whether we leave in January, whether Article 50 is revoked or whether we have a second referendum the country will be fine.

Forget about the scare-mongering, forget about the lies and fears being spread by politicians.

Think about it. If we leave Europe we need to do a trade deal with Europe as fast as possible and a deal will be done otherwise we are both screwed.

If we remain then so be it.

Whichever happens, we just need to get on with it quickly, efficiently and brilliantly to avoid more uncertainty and more division.

But, I promise you it will all be fine, because whichever direction we go in the country will make it work. We have to make it work.

In 10 year’s time, when the chaos disappears, we’ll wonder what all the fuss was about and we’ll view the entire process as a painful waste of time for the entire country.

In the big scheme of things it really doesn’t matter. We have bigger things to worry about right now. The biggest is climate change and related to that is the Housing Crisis.

Forget Brexit

 

My vote this week isn’t going to be a vote about Brexit, but a vote about climate change and the housing crisis. Brexit is nothing compared to these.

Climate change is real, it's present and if we don’t act now, we may never be able to repair the damage that has been caused to the planet. Some say it is already too late.

The housing crisis is worse than ever, and for me housing is directly linked to climate change.

There is a housing crisis not just because there are so many people who are homeless, or because we aren’t building enough homes, or because most homes built today aren’t genuinely affordable for so many people, or because fuel poverty is at its highest level ever, but another enormous factor in the UK housing crisis is that the way we build, heat and power our homes is ecologically unsustainable. Housing cannot just be a numbers game about how many homes we build, the conversation needs to be about what we build.

We should be building the greenest homes on the planet. It is a joke how environmentally unsustainable our new build housing stock is.

We still use a STAGGERING amount of concrete to build our homes, we are still installing gas boilers and burning fossil fuels to heat our homes, we are still using relatively low levels of insulation to keep our homes warm, I still can’t believe that the building regulations don’t specify triple-glazing in all new build housing rather than just settling for double glazing.

The air miles and shipping miles that so many building materials do to travel across the globe and land in Britain for us to create homes with is mind-boggling. As you can imagine I could go on and on with this list.

Take the long-term view

The argument that the country cannot afford to go green with home building because raising ecological standards pushed up house prices just doesn’t wash with me.

The country can’t afford to NOT do this. Building homes isn’t actually that expensive. It is the cost of the land that is ridiculously over inflated.

And we should be looking at the build cost of a home over its lifespan. A super green and ecological home should last a minimum of 100 years, possible over 150 years if built really well.

Britain has to take the long term view with housing and see ecological homes as a necessity for the health and well-being of the country.

WE’VE GOT TO SORT THE CURRENT MESS OUT AND FAST!

The government must increase building and ecological standards to the highest, greenest levels the industry and technology allows us to build to. We have to.

So, let’s look at the housing manifestos in the run up to the election this week.

I won’t cast personal judgment. I’ll just lay out the facts for you to take your own view:

Conservatives

  • Introduce long-term fixed rate mortgages. More
  • Charge non-UK residents a stamp duty surcharge. More
  • Abolish ‘no fault’ evictions – aka get rid of Section 21.
  • Give greater rights of possession to good landlords.
  • Enable councils to discount homes in perpetuity by a third for local people who cannot otherwise afford to buy in their area. They could use this to prioritise the likes of police, nurses and teachers.
  • Maintain a commitment to Right to Buy for council and housing association tenants.
  • Simplify shared ownership products by setting a single standard for all housing associations.
  • Ban the sale of new leasehold homes.
  • Get closer to the target of building 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s. Build at least a million more homes over the next parliament.
  • Simplify the planning system for the public and small builders.
  • Support Modern Methods of Construction.
  • Use stamp duty funds to tackle homelessness – expand the Rough Sleeping Infinitive and Housing First programmes.
  • Amend planning rules so infrastructure like roads, schools, GP surgeries come before people move into new homes, using a £10bn Single Housing Infrastructure Fund.

Labour

  • 150,000 new social homes a year within five years, 100,000 of which are to be built by councils
  • A review on reducing council housing debt
  • Powers and funding for councils to buy back homes from private landlords
  • Ending of the Right to Buy
  • £1bn a year for council homelessness services and extra shelters
  • 8,000 homes for people with a history of rough sleeping, with a pledge to end rough sleeping in five years
  • A “use it or lose it” land tax for developers of stalled housing schemes
  • Confirmation of the promise to scrap Universal Credit as well as the bedroom tax and benefit cap, while increasing Local Housing Allowance rates
  • A ban on leasehold ownership
  • A zero-carbon standard for all new homes
  • Resident ballots on regeneration schemes
  • A new Decent Homes Programme
  • Help to Buy reforms and new discount homes with prices linked to local incomes
  • Scrapping of permitted development rights for office-to-residential schemes
  • £1bn of fire safety funding, with building standards regulated by fire services
  • A new English Sovereign Land Trust
  • Scrapping of the existing definition of “affordable” housing, to be replaced with a term linked to local incomes
  • Ending of the “forced conversion” of social rent homes to affordable rent
  • Open-ended private tenancies and capping of rents at inflation, with cities given powers for further rent controls
  • Nationwide private landlord licensing and new renters’ unions
  • End of rules requiring landlords to check tenants’ immigration status and allowing them to exclude people on housing benefit
  • New council powers to regulate short-term lets
  • A holiday homes levy to raise money for homelessness services
  • A levy on overseas companies buying housing with local people given first refusal
  • Repeal of the Vagrancy Act
  • A review of planning guidance for developments in flood risk areas

Liberal Democrats

  • The Liberal Democrats have pledged to build 300,000 homes per year, of which 100,000 would be for social rent, if they are elected in the upcoming general election.
  • The commitment, included in the party’s election manifesto, is part of a £130bn capital infrastructure budget, which will also see investments in public transport, broadband, schools and hospitals.
  • A pledge to introduce a new Rent to Own model for social housing, through which tenants would gain an increasing stake in their property through renting, which would allow them to own it outright after 30 years.
  • All new homes and non-domestic buildings to be built to a zero-carbon standard by 2021, rising to a more ambitious Passivhaus Standard by 2025.
  • Cut energy bills, end fuel poverty by 2025 and reduce emissions from buildings by providing free retrofits for low-income homes, piloting a new energy-saving homes scheme, graduating stamp duty land tax by the energy rating of the property and reducing VAT on home insulation.
  • Devolve full control of Right to Buy to local councils.
  • Urgently publish a cross-Whitehall plan to end all forms of homelessness.
  • Legislate for longer-term tenancies and limits on annual rent increases.
  • Allow local authorities to increase council tax by up to 500% where homes are being bought as second homes, with a stamp duty surcharge on overseas residents purchasing such properties.
  • Help young people into the private rental market by establishing a new Help to Rent scheme to provide government-backed tenancy deposit loans for all first-time renters under 30.

Greens

  • Invest £100bn a year by 2030 as part of a "green new deal" to tackle climate change - to be mainly paid for by borrowing.
  • Set up the position of Carbon Chancellor to take responsibility for reporting on the UK's C02 usage
  • Become carbon neutral by 2030
  • Plant 700 million new trees
  • Build 100,000 new council homes per year 
  • All new homes must be within 1km of rail, Tube or tram station
  • Rent controls on private lets to bring payments down
  • An end to no-fault evictions
  • End the Tories' Help to Buy scheme
  • Retrofit 10 million homes by 2030 and improve insulation
  • Ensure all 8 million rented homes are rated A 'or as close as possible' for energy efficiency by 2030
  • Reduce the use of steel, concrete and cladding which 'produce massive amounts of carbon' when made

Homelessness

There are 320,000 people officially homeless in Britain, 100,000 of which are children. This is a national scandal on a massive scale.

There are millions of young people who will never have the chance of owning their own home, yet the state currently refuses to build enough homes for affordable rent.

Fuel poverty is the worst it has ever been. More than two-and-a-half million families are in extreme fuel poverty, unable to pay the costs associated with heating their homes without falling below the poverty line and this figure is increasing year on year.

So much of our existing housing stock is ecologically poor.

Breaching human rights

And remember with our housing lists longer than they have ever been and so many people officially homeless, in temporary accommodation and without a home Britain is currently in breach of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) where the ‘right to adequate housing’ joined the body of international, universally applicable and universally accepted human rights law.

The UN Human Right to Adequate Housing states: “the present Covenant recognise the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realisation of this right, recognising to this effect the essential importance of international co-operation based on free consent.”

I’ll say it again. Britain is in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its inability to providing adequate housing for everyone. That is a disgrace.

If we are going to have a truly affordable and a genuine zero-carbon housing system in the country where everyone has the chance to live in a safe, stable and secure home then this country would need to implement the greatest and the most radical changes in housing policy the planet has ever seen.

I wonder which of the political parties is brave enough to do this. I know who I’ll be voting for.

Irrespective of the election outcome and the chaos of Brexit, I wish you all a very, very happy Christmas with peace, love, health and happiness to you all.

But please, just for a moment, give a thought to the 100,000 children in Britain who won’t have a home on Christmas Day.

George Clarke is an architect, writer, lecturer and TV presenter, and a founder of TV production company Amazing Productions.