Plan to re-name HCA as the Grenfell Housing Commission

Former planning minister says there’s no better memorial to Grenfell victims than a re-launched agency tasked to build half a million new homes.

 

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The Government should relaunch the Homes and Communities Agency as the Grenfell Housing Commission and give it the responsibility of building half a million new homes over the next 10 years.

Former Minister for Planning Nick Boles says there could be no better memorial to victims of the disaster.

Boles says the Treasury should organise a dedicated bond issue – the Grenfell Housing bond -, in which savers are offered special tax incentives to invest money over the very long term.

That bond issue, he believes, he bond issue should be promoted as a “patriotic investment” in the same way as War Bonds – and marketed with the same gusto as shares in privatised utilities under the Sid campaign.

Boles makes a case the Grenfell Housing Commission in his new book Square Deal – published in instalments as a set of proposed policies to ‘restore faith in the free market’.

Square Deal outlines the idea of  Government departments being required by the Treasury to transfer all public-sector land that is not in current operational use to the Commission – with those that refuse denied all capital allocations until they comply.

The Commission would be given the responsibility of setting up development corporations in concert with directly elected Mayors and other local councils around the country – with access to its funding conditional on the commitment of local holdings of public land and the contractual agreement of ambitious targets and timescales for new house building.

As well as pooling the land holdings of central and local government, Square Deal sets an expectation of  new development corporations to use the new powers of compulsory purchase to buy land at ‘current use value.’

“Like the development corporations that built Milton Keynes and the other new towns, they would then take responsibility for driving the process of development: drawing up masterplans, hiring contractors to install basic infrastructure, and tendering building contracts for each plot, in which the delivery timetable is clearly specified and there are severe penalties for delay,” Boles says.

To Boles, the majority of the new homes built by the Grenfell Housing Commission should be affordable, because it will be decades before house prices have moderated to levels that ordinary working people can afford.

“But they should all offer an easy route to ownership.

“The Commission should actively promote experimentation with mixed-tenure models of social housing like shared equity and rent-to-buy as well as new models like starter homes,” he says.

Square Deal outlines Community Land Trusts as having particular potential because they offer the possibility of home ownership that is insulated from inflation in land values.

“When someone buys or part-buys a house or flat, the Trust retains the ownership of the land and controls further sales so that the property is sold on to people who meet the Trust’s social goals,

“In this way, a single home can help a whole series of people take that first step onto the property ladder,” Boles says.

Square Deal gives the Commission an initial target of completing 50,000 new homes a year with Government explicitly reserving the right to ask the Commission to increase supply if major housebuilders respond by cutting their output below current levels.

In this way, says Boles, the Commission can act as the swing producer in the housebuilding industry, increasing volumes to maintain overall levels of supply and keep prices stable in real terms.

“Once the Commission and its satellite development corporations have established themselves as consistent suppliers of at least 50,000 new homes a year, the major housebuilders will realise that they can no longer maximise profits by restricting supply.

“New housebuilders will spring up, having been created to tender for construction contracts with the new development corporations.

“The major housebuilders will have to confront the reality that they need to behave more like suppliers in a truly free market – we will finally see some innovation in housebuilding and the quality of housing design and construction will improve,” he says.

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