When the government talks about infrastructure contributing to the economy the focus is usually on roads, railways, broadband and energy. Housing is seldom mentioned.
Why is that? To some extent the housing sector must shoulder the blame. We have not been good at communicating the real value that housing can contribute to economic growth. Then there is the scale of the typical housing project. It is hard to shove for attention among multibillion-pound infrastructure project, so it is inevitable that the attention is focused elsewhere. But perhaps the most significant reason is that the issue has always been so politically charged.
Nevertheless, the affordable housing situation is desperate. Waiting lists increase all the time and we are simply not building enough new homes.
The comprehensive spending review offers an opportunity for the government to help rectify this. It needs to put historical prejudices to one side and take some steps to address our urgent housing need.
There are some indications that it is preparing to do just that. The communities minister, Don Foster, has hinted that George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, may introduce more flexibility to the current cap on the amount that local authorities can borrow against their housing stock debt. Evidence shows that 60,000 extra new homes could be built over the next five years if the cap were lifted, increasing GDP by 0.6%.
Ministers should also look at creating greater certainty in the rental environment, which would have a significant impact on the ability of registered providers to fund new developments from revenues.
But it is not just down to the government. While these measures would be welcome in the short term, we must face up to the fact that the existing ?4.5bn programme of grants to fund new affordable housing, set to expire in 2015,is unlikely to be extended beyond then. The Labour party has recently announced that it will retain a large part of the coalition’s spending plans if returns to power. The housing sector needs to accept that we are very unlikely to ever return to era of large-scale public grants. We need to adjust to this changing climate.
For the first time in history, more people live in towns than in the county. In Britain this has had a curious result. While polls show Britons rate “the countryside” alongside the royal firmly, Shakespeare and the National Health Service (NHS) as what makes them proudest of their country, this has limited political support.
A century ago Octavia Hill launched the National Trust not to rescue stylish houses but to save “the beauty of natural places for everyone forever.” It was specifically to provide city dwellers with spaces for leisure where they could experience “a refreshing air.” Hill’s pressure later led to the creation of national parks and green belts. They don’t make countryside any more, and every year concrete consumes more of it. It needs constant guardianship.
At the next election none of the big parties seem likely to endorse this sentiment. The conservatives’ planning reform explicitly gives rural development priori over conservation, even authorizing “off-plan” building where local people might object. The concept of sustainable development has been defined as profitable. Labour likewise wants to discontinue local planning where councils oppose development. The Liberal Democrats are silent. Only Ukip, sensing its chance, has sided with those pleading for a more considered approach to using green land. Its Campaign to Protect Rural England struck terror into many local Conservative parties.
The sensible place to build new houses, factories and offices is where people are.in cities and towns where infrastructure is in place. The London agents Stirling Ackroyd recently identified enough sites for half a million houses in the London area alone, no intrusion on green belt. What is true of London is even truer of the provinces.
The idea that “housing crisis” equals “concreted meadows” is pure lobby talk. The issue is not the need for more house but, as always, where to put them. Under lobby pressure, George Osborne favours rural new-build against urban renovation and renewal. He favours out-of-town shopping sites against. high streets. This is not a free market but a biased one. Rural towns and villages have growl and will always grow. They do so best where building sticks to their edges and respects their character. We do not ruin urban conservation areas. Why ruin rural ones?
Development should be planned .not let rip. After the Netherlands, Britain is Europe’s most crowded country. Half a century of town and country planning has enabled it to retain an enviable rural coherence, while still permitting low-density urban living. there is no doubt of the alternative – the corrupted landscapes of southern Portugal Spain or Ireland avoiding this rather than promoting it should unite left and right of the political spectrum.
Against a backdrop of drastic changes in economy and population structure, younger Americans are drawing a new 21st-century road map to success, a latest poll has found.
Across generational lines, Americans continue to prize many of the same traditional milestones of a successful life, including getting married, having children, owning a home, and retiring in their sixties. But while young and old mostly agree on what constitutes the finish line of a fulfilling life, they offer strikingly different paths for reaching it.
Young people who are still getting started in life were more likely than older adults to prioritize personal fulfillment in their work, to believe they will advance their careers most by regularly changing jobs, to favor communities with more public services and a faster pace of life, to agree that couples should be financially secure before getting married or having children, and to maintain that children are best served by two parents working outside the home, the survey found.
From career to community and family, these contrasts suggest that in the aftermath of the searing Great Recession, those just starting out in life are defining priorities and expectations that will increasingly spread through virtually all aspects of American life, from consumer preferences to housing patterns to politics.
Young and old converge on one key point: Overwhelming majorities of both groups said they believe it is harder for young people today to get started in life than it was for earlier generations. While younger people are somewhat more optimistic than their elders about the prospects for those starting out today, big majorities in both groups believe those “just getting started in life” face a tougher a good-paying job, starting a family, managing debt, and finding affordable housing.
Pete Schneider considers the climb tougher today. Schneider, a 27-yaear-old auto technician from the Chicago suburbs says he struggled to find a job after graduating from college. Even now that he is working steadily, he said.” I can’t afford to pay ma monthly mortgage payments on my own, so I have to rent rooms out to people to mark that happen.” Looking back, he is struck that his parents could provide a comfortable life for their?children even though neither had completed college when he was young. “I still grew up in an upper middle-class home with parents who didn’t have college degrees,” Schneider said. “I don’t think people are capable of that anymore.”