Bishop slams 'great god' of house prices

PUBLISHED: 10:15 10 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:59 22 October 2010

The Bishop of Norwich condemned the spiralling house price market as a “great god” which was wrecking first time buyers' chances of getting on the property ladder.

The Bishop of Norwich condemned the spiralling house price market as a “great god” which was wrecking first time buyers' chances of getting on the property ladder.

The Rt Rev Graham James said he felt like a “leftover from old Labour” by arguing against market forces being the only solution to the rural affordable housing crisis.

In an unusually political speech, which criticised society's housing culture, the Bishop said the “tide was turning”, but more could be done to help countryside communities.

It came after he opened a pioneering scheme at Tivetshall, near Diss, which is being used as a model for other villages across East Anglia.

The Bishop, who represents the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC), said that it was not “human wickedness” or “political perversity” that forced young people to become alienated and displaced from the places they were brought up, but the operation of the market.

“Ours is a society which has become wealthier through market economics, so much so that at times we've bowed down before the market as a great god.”

“Occasionally you are made to feel like some sort of leftover from old Labour if you argue that the market cannot on its own meet the need for affordable rural housing,” he said.

Bishop James also condemned a lack of government action for small settlements, which needed an extra 11,000 affordable homes a year to meet a huge shortfall across the UK.

He said that projects like Tivetshall's were only made possible by flexibility from local planning officials, sympathy of landowners, and a strong desire from community leaders.

The 16 home Hastoe Housing Association project is unique because it has brought together rented, shared ownership, and open market properties without the use of grants or public subsidies.

The Bishop said he would continue to campaign for similar schemes and place rural housing high on his list of priorities by acting as commissioner for the CRC, which acts as a rural advocate, adviser and watchdog on government policy.

“Certainly it is higher on the agenda for people in the countryside because so many of the younger generation have had to move away, but government policy in the past has focused on the urban housing crisis,” he said.

“We are not starting from scratch otherwise we wouldn't be here in Tivetshall today, but it does seem to be the smaller rural communities that are those currently most likely to lose out.”

New figures have revealed that the east of England needs an extra 200,000 affordable homes to rent because of increasing council house waiting lists. House building rates also need to return to 1970s levels in order to meet the demand in the open market.

Bishop James, who yesterday took part in an debate with council planning officers, housing association members, and developers at Tivetshall, said he hoped an Office of the Deputy Prime Minister objective to “ensure that everyone can live in a decent home, at a price they could afford, in a community they want to live” had not been abolished along with John Prescott's department.

He added that he was getting more “positive” reactions from government officials about the issue.

“At the last CRC conference it felt much more like a rally than a conference. It was as if the issue was being given political legs. Ministers said they would respond quickly, which means by the autumn,” he jibed.

He also raised the issue in the House of Lords on Thursday night by calling for an extension of a three year funding package for 40 rural housing enablers across the country, who are working to build more social homes in the countryside.

Andrew Budden, from Hastoe Housing Association, which created the Tivetshall housing and village green scheme, said the project took a lot of effort and more exceptions should be allowed in planning laws.

“This is our first in this part of the world and quite a lot of associations are looking down this road, but not all councils are as farsighted as South Norfolk District Council,” he said.

Mike Haslam, independent planning consultant, said villages were becoming more “gentrified” as a result of policies.

“Planners need to provide for the social needs and sustainability of communities and this is a good scheme to show how things can be pushed through the system,” he said.

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