An open letter to the Housing Minister

Yesterday Brandon Lewis was re-appointed Housing and Planning Minister, with Greg Clark announced as the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Below is an open letter to the Minister from our Chief Executive, Campbell Robb, congratulating him on his re-appointment and setting out the action we’d like to see to solve the housing shortage, following the significant attention it received in the election campaign.

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Dear Minister,

Congratulations from everyone at Shelter on your re-appointment.

There’s hardly ever been a more exciting or urgent time to take up the position of Housing Minister. For the first time in a generation, we’ve just had a general election in which our housing crisis was front and centre. On the eve of polling, it climbed up to be a top 4 issue for voters. All parties eagerly competed for votes on it, speaking to the anxieties and the aspirations of people who have seen the dream of a decent affordable home move further out of reach.

Now there is a significant opportunity to solve that problem, and give those voters hope. They will be expecting things to get better, not worse.

As you’ll know, you don’t have to look far to identify the problem: a massive shortage of homes has built up in this country, under successive governments, which is pricing out young couples and leaving others trapped in unsuitable, expensive private renting. We urgently need more homes in all tenures, but the shortage of genuinely affordable homes, such as social housing, for working people on low incomes, is particularly acute.

It was great to see the Prime Minister recognise this on the steps of Downing St when he kicked off the election by identifying “the homes we want to build” as a crucial part of his next Government’s mission.

There’s a lot to do but here’s what you should prioritise to get the best chance of seeing a real impact:

  1. Ring fencing and boosting the Affordable Housing Programme. Alongside the private sector, the government – via housing associations and local authorities – has a crucial role to play in building genuinely affordable homes and boosting overall supply. Historically every time we have built the homes we need in this country it has been a partnership between government and private sector, not either/or. That’s why it’s vital that the Affordable Housing budget is protected from any further cuts. In fact, boosting it by just £1.2bn a year would make a significant difference to the lives of millions of working people, and kick-start a real boom in house building.
  2. Giving the private sector the tools it needs to build more homes. High land prices have locked out desperately needed small builders and self-builders from the market. At the moment, it’s simply not rational for developers to build the numbers homes we need. The answer is neither state diktat nor ripping up the planning system, but smarter planning and strategic action to get cheaper land in to the hands of people who want to build. This means giving councils the power to create ‘New Home Zones’: strategic growth areas earmarked for high quality, lower-cost development. This will require more effective compulsory purchase powers. Local authorities should also be able to levy council tax to unlock stalled sites, while high-quality garden cities and urban extensions should be kick-started.
  1. Making private renting more stable and decent. The new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was right when he asked “How can a family put down roots if they’re on six months’ notice to quit on a buy-to-let?” The government should legislate to encourage landlords to offer five year tenancies, and support councils in making sure homes are decent and safe.

For more detail on how the shortage of homes can be solved sensibly in the next five years, see KPMG and Shelter’s five year action plan at www.thehomesweneed.org.uk

A wave of public concern has pushed housing up the national agenda. Without concerted action, that anxiety will heighten as the impact of the shortage on people’s lives worsens; housing will only grow in salience, and frustration at politicians will only rise. But with bold action, this could be the government that becomes known for solving a crisis that threatened the hopes and dreams of millions of people across the UK. As ever we will be here to help and support you in that mission.

All the best,

Campbell

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