A Welshman’s home…

Phil Parry says the housing crisis will be a key battleground at the General Election.

A ‘decent place to live’ will be a policy battleground and issue of next years General Election. UKIP are first out of the traps on this by  proposing that council house applicants born locally or whose parents or grandparents were born in the area will be given priority on social housing waiting lists. Although other parties criticise this as a move away from a ‘needs-based’ philosophy, it is nevertheless potentially attractive to actual local voters already ‘in real need’ of somewhere to live!  Plaid Cymru have similar although less overtly ‘anti-immigrant’ arguments that housing should be built and made affordable for ‘local people’ to prevent erosion of the language and dispersal of traditional communities.

The Labour controlled Welsh Government says:

“We offer help to people who otherwise couldn’t afford to buy a home.

“We also work with others to make the whole process of buying and selling easier and more efficient.”

As most people realise, this has little or no real meaning. This is not what is required. More actual physical bricks and mortar housing is what is required not vague promises of ‘help’ .

House building is a business not a charity or public service. Therefore, what you are seeing is that, across Wales, parcels of land are being bought up by developers and held in ‘land banks’ to push up prices and to increase pressure on councils to yield into giving planning permission. Supermarkets like Tesco, have vast acreages of land in these ‘land banks’ just biding it’s time until the pressure to develop is intolerable ( as now) and permission is granted by hook or by crook. It may take years, but sooner or later planning departments will have to ‘give in’ and permission is given. This happens all the time. Coupled to this hording of land, because  land is so expensive builders can maximise profits and margins if they build to sell relatively high or mid value housing.

House builders are not interested in building for those that need them. It is not a social service! This makes the issue of ‘social housing’ particularly difficult even though councils often require the building of a small token ghetto of ‘social housing’ within each new  development as a condition of planning permission. Are these ghettos ever delivered? Possibly not. Oops! We forgot. Sorry.

Registrations of new houses in Wales surged by 63 per cent in the third quarter of this year suggesting that the problem here is as acute as anywhere else. The population of Cardiff is now about 340,000 and by 2026 it will be more than 395,000. Housing of various types is springing up everywhere accompanied by howls of NIMBY anguish and anxious questions. What will become of our Community? What about the Traffic? What about the Health Services? Who are these properties for? Are they Affordable?  The answer to this last question is NO for the vast majority of people that really need them.

In the Cardiff area, there are ongoing protests about the latest plan to level the broadcasting studios and offices at Culverhouse Cross to the west of Cardiff and build houses. It is, according to the protesters, ‘a wholly inappropriate’ site. To the north of Cardiff the huge area either side of Llantrisant road in Llandaff which has been the headquarters of BBC Wales for nearly 48 years is being sold – and, almost certainly, expensive properties will be built there.

House and flat prices are at absurd levels. The average price for a home in Wales is now £171,000 – In London prices are at levels in some areas above the peak before the 2008 crash.  Over the last 50 years, household incomes in Britain have risen by a factor of 32 but house prices have risen by more than 90. There has been a slight dip in the growth rate of house prices recently, but the unmistakable trend is upwards.

I bought my first house (a small two-up, two-down in Cardiff) when I was 24. It was £22,500.

There is no way my children will be able to buy their own place to live, without using the bank of Mum & Dad. The problem is not so much paying a loan – financial companies offer competitive mortgages to those that have jobs (preferably public sector) but not those who are self-employed or on iniquitous zero hours contracts. The problem is finding or saving up for a deposit of tens of thousands of pounds. Coming so soon after (for many) leaving college with an enormous student loan to pay off, this is unattainable.

This crisis is set against a population that is growing all the time. In the UK it is now 64.1 million (although this is almost certainly an underestimate). In Wales the rate of growth is slower, but it is still rising and now stands at 3.1 million – a growth rate of 0.27 per cent over a decade. These population figures are set against a backdrop of rising numbers of households, with more and more people opting to live alone. Apart from a growing indigenous population, the figures are also being particularly boosted by immigration. But all these people need somewhere decent to live – young people, immigrants and those who want to own a place of their own.

In the south and south east of England the problem is particularly serious. In this, I have to confess to a personal interest because my daughter has just started her course at Brighton university. Here, not only do they refuse to guarantee all freshers a place in a student hall, as many institutions do, but they did not tell her until late August that she had to find a private place to live, when her course started a few weeks later. This was a teenager starting life in a city she did not know. We all had to rush round and find her a private house in Brighton with several other freshers – which we managed to do (at a cost of £109 a week incidentally, and there are nine of them so you can do the maths yourself). Needless to say this has been infuriating! Surely we have gone beyond the idea that academic aspiration requires us to lead to a life of penury in hock for generations to the banks and the greedy landlords? Maybe not.

But this problem too is a symptom of the crisis in housing and immigration as will be pointed out ad nauseam in the months leading up to the general election. The Party that has the most convincing answers to this will attract the most voters.

It must be resolved and policy-makers must ensure it is. Otherwise we will all continue to pay the price for generations to come.

Phil Parry is the Editor of Wales Eye, which can now be found at http://www.walespolitico.uk/.

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