Are you young, ambitious and yearning to own your own home? Chances are you never will.
This month, the government caved to scores of its own backbenchers and confirmed it will water down the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, currently making its way through the Commons.
A group of organised and disciplined rebels led by former Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, had threatened to propose an amendment to the Bill that would scrap mandatory housing targets and replace them with ‘advisory’ targets.
In short this would allow councils to refuse new housing developments if they could present a case that additional development would damage the ‘character’ of the local area. Consequently, it is likely that thousands of fewer homes will be built.
How did we get here? The 2019 Conservative Party manifesto was awash with grand ambitions for Britain’s faltering housing market. The gravity of Brexit had relegated housing to page 32 of the manifesto, nonetheless, the party pledged one million more homes by the end of the parliament, aiming for 300,000 new, affordable and green homes every year by the mid-2020s.
This target is now pie in the sky. The last concrete figure released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed just under 250,000 new homes were constructed between April 2019 and March 2020, far too few to meet demand. That’s not the only issue plaguing first time buyers. The economic downturn in recent months has resulted in skyrocketing interest rates, locking ever-growing numbers of young people out of the mortgage market.
Inevitably, this has led to rents soaring in recent months, with housing supply in the rental sector down nine per cent according to The Guardian. In Manchester the average rent increased 22 per cent over the past year – one of the highest in the nation.
Increasing numbers of middle-aged people are trapped in the rental sector and young people seem unlikely to ever own anything beyond the shoes on their feet. It is a disgrace that in the sixth largest economy in the World, an entire generation are priced out of ever owning the roof above their head.
The rebellion by backbench Tories was not concentrated to the typical rebels (the Redwoods and Rees-Moggs of the party), but spanned the entire breath of the Conservative coalition. Damian Green, Theresa May’s de facto Deputy Prime Minister and stalwart of Tory moderates, pledged his support to the rebellion. That said, most of the rebels have one thing in common: they mostly represent affluent, middle-class, southern constituencies.
For instance Chipping Barnet, Villiers’ constituency in North London, is a commuter town, well-connected to London via the underground, with residential properties largely semi-detached with generous gardens – a British white picket fence suburbia.
Villiers told Sky News last weekend that she felt constituencies like hers were being “ambushed” by central housing targets.
This is a battle in which MPs representing prosperous areas are aiming to prevent the ‘yobs’ from moving into their back yards. This is bad for the economy, bad for growth and catastrophic for millions of young people, many of whom will never own their own home.
Robert Colville, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) – a think tank founded by Tory hero Margaret Thatcher – called the rebels “selfish and wicked”, writing in The Sunday Times that they “must be stopped”. Yet a succession of spineless Conservative leaders have ensured that they triumphed. The prime minister lacked the political authority to crush the rebellion and now millions of young people are set to pay the price.
In his 1964 speech A Time for Choosing, Ronald Reagan said of government: “the more the plans fail, the more the planners plan”. Tory housing policy has been a succession of ill thought through and poorly executed strategies that have left the country in a worse state that when they found it.