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Get building with Boris

If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

So it looks like someone at least, was listening to the Get Britain Building 2020 launch.

Boris Johnson, former MP, current Mayor of London and future MP (presumably) stood up at the Tory Conference yesterday and said that the Tories will build more houses.

In typical Boris-style, he brandished a brick around, declaring: “Brick, you will not be alone.” Which is a nice sentiment, even if you wonder whether it’s just party-conference-puff.

The brick Johnson had with him came from Ibstock Brick Ltd in Newcastle-under-Lyme which he visited on Monday. They even let him have a go at making a hand-made brick. Having told Ibstock that it had been it’s been “fascinating to see first-hand where the building materials used across London’s building projects begin their journey”.

Johnson was impressed enough with the investment to take one of the bricks home and use it as a prop in his conference speech the next day .

Waving the brick around, he praised Ibstock (other brick brands are available and, indeed, investing), telling the Party faithful that the company was ‘hiring people and firing bricks’ to help ‘build the homes that people need, and to help them on to the property ladder’.

Johnson’s speech echoed the promise that his leader David Cameron also made, this time to first-time buyers, that up to 100,000 new homes are to be offered to first-time-buyers under the age of 40 at a discount of 20% if the Tories win the next election.

The 20% discount would be funded by exempting those homes from some taxes and from the zero-carbon homes standard and from the developers’ section 106 requirements, which obliges them to ensure that a proportion of new home are affordable and, crucially, to contribute towards the cost of the extra local amenities – roads etc – that the development would burden the local authority with. They would also be built on brownfield land that has already been earmarked for development but which is not needed for commercial use.

All jolly positive, except, having listened to Lord Wolfson’s speech at the BMF the other day, I have reservations about whether this message will filter through to the planning system.

Lord Wolfson’s argument (so impressive that, yes, I am referencing it in two consecutive blogs) is that the planning system is so unfit for purpose that it decides that houses must be built “on land no longer fit for cows to graze upon”, instead of where people want to live.

He is also not a fan of Help to Buy – which the first-time buyers that Cameron is offering 20% discounts to would also be eligible for, arguing that it is just a mechanism by which we encourage people to take on more debt that they ought to be comfortable with.

I don’t think anyone has all the answers. I’m not sure there are answers to all the housing and planning issue problems. However, there’s a cynical little voice in my head which is asking whether the 20% “discount” will just end up being swallowed up by developers, freed of some of their own costs and free to charge for their houses what a supply-and-demand market will bear.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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