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COMMENT OPINION

Politics:
Pledging to build 300,000 new homes a year

November 2012

Simon Hughes
Lib Dem deputy leader and MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark

At the Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton this year, Liberal Democrats committed to working towards building 300,000 new homes a year.

This is the number of homes experts have estimated are needed each year just to keep up with the current level of household formation in our country.

Currently we only build around 100,000 homes each year, and the consequences of this are hugely damaging. Social housing is often massively overcrowded and in short supply.
For young people owning a home is becoming an unaffordable dream, with an average deposit in London now hitting £100,000.

Reaching the goal of 300,000 new homes a year will not be easy, particularly in times of austerity. But the new agreed Liberal Democrat housing policy, ‘Decent homes for all’, contains useful and innovative policies which are now being put to the Government.

There is a lot that can be done to help local councils to finance home building programmes. If our government would adopt accounting rules like those used elsewhere in Europe, local councils would be able to borrow against the Housing Revenue Account without adding to central government debt.

Of course building more housing is just one side of the coin. We need also to make sure that the right sort of housing is built to meet local needs. In the northern part of the London Borough of Southwark, which I represent, developers have been allowed to get away with building far too many luxury homes which are then sold off-plan to foreign investors who have no intention of living in them. This is at the expense of affordable housing.

Partly this is down to misguided planning policies from the council which is prepared to take payments and allow developers to escape their local affordable housing obligations and then build elsewhere. This strategy breaks up communities and creates more urban ghettos – which is why Bermondsey and Old Southwark Liberal Democrats succeeded in amending the policy to call on Lib Dems across England to reject these policies and support mixed communities.

There is also currently no effective means of controlling second homes, which is why we have also called on government to introduce new use classes in planning law to allow local councils to restrict second homes if they wish to.

I am clear that a safe and warm home for every family should be one of the biggest priorities for our government. We should take ambitious steps over the next two-and-a-half years of this parliament. This will require radical action and political commitment. At our conference, Liberal Democrats demonstrated that we have both of these, in spades.