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/.

4 thoughts on “A Welshman’s home…

  1. Hi Phil,

    You have raised many important points that should matter to us all no matter where one lives in our market driven society.

    The ‘housing problem’ through escalating property prices started years ago (1970’s) and has not escaped the ‘beady eye’ of our financial regulators but very little has been done in tangible terms to put either the breaks on housing cost escalation or to address the corrosive and damaging implications on less fortunate people in simple wealth terms, meaning the poor.

    Bank of England (BOE) has tinkered with this over the decades but still hasn’t managed to find the formula that works but in fairness to them they can’t do it just through the fiscal measures as it needs other aspects and legislative provisions to it which can only come from the party in Government.

    Mark Carney the BOE Governor and only few months ago addressed the very issues you raised and this has been widely reported in the media at the time. One of the better articles on the subject in terms of clarity and simplicity featured in the Guardian last July and is worth revisiting – See: http://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/jul/15/ons-uk-house-prices-may-london.

    In my view any responsible UK Government must act on this especially in areas that you have identified and specifically the affordable housing and the rental sector issues to bring fairness, sanity and social justice to UK people.

    You used the term ‘Greedy Landlords’ which I endorse 100% but we need tighter control of the rented sector not only in terms of the rental cost but equally ensure adequate standard of the accommodation provided in habitable terms (Huge proportion of inner city rental accommodation is simply unfit for human habitat and the current standards are inadequate and easy to flout).

    Perhaps we need to reinvent some of the old socialist principles in parallel to the market economy and use some good aspects from the failed economic philosophy of Communism and find a way to allocate proportion of the state funding to building of affordable housing on par with the expenditure allocated for NHS, Education and so on…

    We know the money available to the Government is finite and needs to be used wisely but I do believe that those wealthy and more fortunate must pay far greater contribution through taxes than it’s the case now (A time honoured socialist principle that even our Labour party is scared to advocate and articulate as they know it’s the ‘middle classes’ who will go out and vote and their vote will not go to support of enhanced social justice)!

    Perhaps a way out is to make voting in elections compulsory at all levels of governance and educate the disfranchised majority to be counted and use their vote for building a fearer world before it all collapses through the market economy implied greed and this is not a hypothetical notion but a real and a present threat to the society that we know and value today (In other words society evolution can only go so far bore it reaches a break point and we have a REVOLUTION)!?

    Where I don’t agree with you Phil is your reference to Plaid Cymru (PC) and their policies to this very issue as PC are of little to no relevance in the Welsh political spectrum and this is not based on my ‘wishful thinking’ it’s simply a fact.

    Having said this PC, especially its mind-set presence is strong in other Welsh parties especially the Welsh Labour as visible through their Welsh speaking leadership. If I’m wrong how else one would explain the current Welsh Labour Government’s preoccupation to make us all Welsh speakers and where education and public employment are used as a tool to this aim?

    Perhaps we should take another look at the devolution and ask ourselves honestly ‘are we better off and more empowered through additional democracy and the local governance’ – In my view after 15 years behind us in this direction the vast number of people would most likely say NO if given a fair chance to do so.

    In the Welsh context devolution is a disaster and a huge waste of public moneys that could have been used for far better causes including affordable housing, better NHS and better education!?

    I’ll finish on a nostalgic note, but relevant to decent housing initiative that featured large in the UK and especially Wales few years before we got ‘More Democracy through the Devolution’ – It was a scheme known as Urban Renewal and Regeneration where UK Government allocated huge moneys via the Welsh Office to regenerate, renew and modernise housing stock in Welsh towns and villages (Old decayed, damp and cold terraced houses were totally refurbished getting new roofs, insulation, new windows / doors. Re-wiring, re-plumbing, re-plastering, new bathrooms and kitchens plus external fabric improvements) – What has Welsh Government done in this regard in the last 15 years? – (Answer: NOTHNG as it can’t afford to do it unless it fired itself and use saving achieved where it matters)!

  2. Sorry to say, but perhaps you should have thought longer and harder before deciding to have a family. Families are expensive. Always have been and always will be.

    There are many in you shoes, of this I am sure. But you cannot expect everybody else to change just because you and yours can’t have it all your own way.

    In peacetime there is a price for having children. And this price has to be paid by parents and the kids themselves. It’s a good lesson for you to pass on to the next generation.

  3. Karen, I think you are being a bit harsh on Phil as he is simply echoing a position that many parents find themselves in and also there are kids in this world who do need help and who often have no parental support or interest in their education (I guess you are also saying that Phil should have consulted a mystic at the time he considered it was a right time for him and his Missus to have kids – Economic situation 20 years ago, was very different to what we have today)!?

    On a different topic but in part relevant to Phil’s Essay though IWA readers would find the following of interest:

    After writing my little contribution this morning, read the following in the Welsh National Newspaper based on its popularity and sales figures in Wales, The Daily Mail:


    It’s just beyond my comprehension that the Continent with so much poverty can fund its privileged minority to the extent it does – We all know it’s the corruption but their greed does affect property prices in London and similar actions from people of Middle East, India, Russia, China and so on origins – Don’t want to lecture anyone on how they should live but personally find it abhorrent.

    In my opinion, all these people have lost touch with the reality and instead of excessive and lavish living life-style for themselves by toning it down a bit they can do immense good to improve lives of those less fortunate in the countries of their origins!?

  4. “In peacetime there is a price for having children” writes karen……er i feel bound to ask what on earth is ‘peacetime’ when its at home? but the same correspondent is of course correct when she infers that having children should be the exclusive perogative of the rich.

    certainly we’d all be a lot better off if the working classes desisted from burdening society with their hungry offspring. and if they arent willing to doing so voluntarily then the only solution is mass sterilisation…….i believe that such measures were all the fashion in europe in the 1930s

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