Thursday, 27 June 2013

Owning your own home

Last night I sat next to a young activist at the meal with Chris Bryant and we came onto the topic of buying a house and getting on the housing ladder.

As a relatively young person (30 year old) I know how getting onto the housing ladder is increasingly difficult; many young people in my generation (born in 1980s) are simply priced out of the market across the South and the problem is worsening because of stagnant wages and a lack of supply. 

Housing is an emotive issue for me; I still find it distasteful that some MPs who live within commuting distance (from all parties) find it fit and proper to get subsidized second homes/flats; distasteful when we have a whole generation of people for which the first home remains totally and utterly out of reach. It is partly this reason I have as candidate pledged to commute (as I do now) from Medway if elected. 

A decent home at a price people can afford is essential for a healthy, happy family life. Yet too many people in Chatham and Aylesford have to struggle too hard and too long to achieve that, whilst for many others it is simply out of reach.

I am not a parent but i’ve spoken to young couples - some still living with mum and dad - and they are worried. I am fortunate as a single man working in a relatively well remunerated industry in that I was able to save several years to get onto the housing ladder (and pay off my student debt) but I am unusual, and I know it. I run tight budgets and when I lived in London after I first graduated I did live in some questionable housing conditions (which is why I dislike unscrupulous landlords!). 

Sadly though for many of my own age cohort and many under they may never be in a position to get on the ladder.

People do aspire to own their own home and it is quite clear that token measures by central government are not cutting the mustard. 

New figures published by Shelter show that hard-working young people are locked out of buying new homes for up to 10-20 years because of sky-high property prices fueled by decades of Britain failing to build enough houses (and that includes Labour).

This has led to the biggest housing crisis in a generation with some development land being hoarded unnecessarily instead of being built on. I understand that developers need to maintain a certain amount of land for the future but there are firms sitting on land with planning permission, waiting for it to accumulate in value and not building homes on it. 

Planning permission has already been granted for 400,000 homes in England and Wales – equivalent to a city the size of Birmingham – which have not yet been built. And yet in the latest quarter, only 18,380 homes were completed by the private sector – the lowest quarter in 23 years.

We desperately need more homes in Medway and Aylesford but have spent almost three years dithering – even today the measures announced are piecemeal; It is why Labour is looking at a range of measures to encourage land-owners to start building, get construction workers back into jobs and provide decent homes for local families.

We are looking at giving local authorities real powers to charge developers fees for unnecessarily sitting on land – which would be helpful to both Medway and Tonbridge & Malling - with planning permission and to say to the worst offenders that they should either use the land, or lose the land. Permission to build homes should mean land-owners build homes. 

Local government does need to get more powers; but it also needs to be competent. Medway Council does not help itself; we have been sitting on the Local Development framework for years and we have just seen £35m wasted by the Medway Conservatives on the second Core Strategy document which now leaves open the door for lobbying from developers on cherished greenfield sites. Building new homes need not threaten our cherished green spaces; but incompetence by Conservatives dithering in Gun Wharf is causing concern. Years after cross-party petitions were submitted to safeguard Capstone Valley the threat is now very much real given Lodge Hill is off the cards.

But these options are just a starting point. Nobody should be in any doubt about Labour’s determination to rebuild our country, get our construction industry working again and give families a chance of owning a decent home but not at the expense of cherished green spaces and certainly not at the cost of £27m.

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