Why do our national politicians not have any ideas on our housing crisis?

Secretary of state for housing James Brokenshire, right, talks to builders

Secretary of state for housing James Brokenshire, right, talks to builders - Credit: Archant

Iain Dale says our senior politicians need to wake up and realise that there is a housing crisis going on in the UK

Brexit is without doubt the issue which offers the biggest challenge to modern day British politicians. Depending on your viewpoint, climate change might come in second, or just possibly housing. And it's housing that I want to turn to in this week's column. Why? Because the secretary of state for housing, James Brokenshire, made an absolute fool of himself on my LBC radio show on Monday evening. Given the buck stops with him, I was astonished that when I asked him how many of his claimed 220,000 new builds last year were council houses or other forms of social housing, he had no clue. Not a scooby.

If, as a politician, let alone as secretary of state for housing, you don't have those figures at your finger-tips, it leaves people with the impression that the issue of providing housing for people on average or less than average earnings is not exactly your number one priority.

I've said many times in recent months that the party which gets to grip with housing policy is the one that stands the best chance of winning the next election. What we need is nothing less than a housing revolution. We need to kind of application that was seen in the 1950s when Harold Macmillan was housing minister, and 300,000 houses were built in each year.

Brokenshire is claiming that the 220,000 figure is the highest we've seen for quite a few years, yet the ONS figure puts the number of completed houses that year was 165,000, only one per cent higher than the previous year.

On the plus side, that is the highest number for 10 years. Of these, only 27,450 of these were housing association builds, along with a pathetic 2640 local authority council houses.

Housing experts say that a minimum of 75,000 annual social housing builds is needed just to stand still. In 1968, 352,540 houses were built. If we could do it in 1968 at a time when the population was stable and immigration was comparatively low, why can't we do it now, at a time when we have increasing population growth and an average net influx of 250,000 each year of migrants? Surely it is the responsibility of government to ensure that the infrastructure is there to cope with these needs? What else is government for?

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Even 20 years ago, if you earned anywhere near the average wage, you could reasonably expect to be able to afford to buy a small house or flat wherever you live in the country. Nowadays? Not so much. Indeed, if you live in London, the South East or in many parts of East Anglia, the dream of owning your own home is a very distant one.

Even renting has become somewhat of a lottery.

In Norwich in 2017-18 only 94 houses/flats were built by the City Council, while 187 were sold under Right to Buy. In Ipswich it is estimated that 10,000 new houses will be needed by 2031. Does anyone seriously think they will be built?

Our planning system is still too clunky and we're still obsessed by the green belt. Councils have shed planning officers like there is no tomorrow which means builders who actually want to build are put off because they can't be confident how long applications will take to get through the system. And then you have the phenomenon of 'land-banking', where the big companies buy up land to prevent their competitors getting hold of it, and then often do nothing with it, sometimes for decades.

In addition, small housebuilders have too many disincentives to build in the numbers that are needed. But they are a major part of the solution to our housing crisis. The government and local councils need to think of ways to incentivise them to build more houses.

I'm not talking about massive developments, but if they can see the commercial advantages in putting forward schemes of five-10 houses and flats, this will go a long way to getting us out of the hole we are in.

What a pity none of our national politicians seem to have a clue what to do about our housing crisis.

They have plenty of diagnoses but few solutions.