There’s no sound case for adding to our housing stock if we can’t properly manage the stock we already have. Leading politicians who bang the drum over a shortage of affordable homes have done nothing to end Right-to-Buy, which continues to bleed the social rented stock much faster than it can be replenished. That includes replenished on the basis that housebuilders get to build two market homes for every affordable one, market homes in places they might otherwise not get to build at all.
Do we have sensible lettings policies for the stock we do still have? No. Often the townies get priority. In parts of Cornwall, the landlords, or their nominating authorities, are councils from Birmingham, London and Manchester. The locals aren’t eligible. How widespread is that? Are Wessex retirement zones similarly blighted? And this is before we start on second homes and holiday lets, long-term empty properties, derelict buildings and under-used floorspace.
Above all, let’s not forget the elephant in the south-east corner, whose wealth distorts everyone’s housing market. We know all the jibes about nimbyism. We know we’re meant to feel ashamed that we fight so hard for the Wessex countryside that feeds, powers and waters London, amuses it at the weekend and buries its unending stream of waste. We know we supposedly lack a sense of ‘social responsibility’ if we refuse to take London’s overspill. But d'you know what? We’re not the irresponsible ones. They’re those who suck the world’s wealth into London and then expect others to solve problems we didn’t create.
In Northumbria there are whole streets, even whole villages, of sound housing that has no takers. The so-called ‘bedroom tax’ makes the older two-bed terraces unviable for those on benefits. (Not that Labour cares.) Will they be abandoned to ‘market forces’, as the population re-locates south? To join the international migrants who also congregate in the south because that’s where the work is. Let’s remember that UKIP, as yet another party of free market ideologues, are essentially unconcerned about inter-regional migration. And what are those international migrants if not a regional problem on a bigger scale? The Poles would still be in Poland if their economy hadn’t been stuck behind the Iron Curtain for 45 years.
Is it all inevitable, this surrender to the ineffable will of the market? Wrong question, because this is NOT solely about the market. It’s also about the corporate capture of the British State and the renunciation of its power to influence events in a win-win direction. Not just in terms of policy but hard cash too. The UK is a big enough spender to shape the market. UK public spending this year is £731 billion. Is it all spent well? So that those who want development can get it and those who don’t can breathe a sigh of relief? No, it isn’t. And the result is an economic catastrophe for the one and an environmental catastrophe for the other.
We don’t need more housing. We need more fairness. We won’t get it from London. Which is why Wessex so urgently needs to take its sovereignty back.