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Home: it’s where the heart is

Home is the nicest word there is

It’s Party Conference season, so the thoughts of young men (and women and the not so young) have lightly turned to thoughts of housing.

It’ll be interesting to see what the Conservatives and the Lib Dems come up with when their Conferences kick off but so far, the Labour one sounds like they’ve got a handle on what is needed.

Houses. Lots of them, to cater for our growing population. One of the things that Labour leader Ed Milliband did remember to say yesterday was: “The confidence and security that comes from having your own home is missing for so many people in Britain today; that most British of dreams, the dream of home ownership, has faded.”

He has a point. The gap between wages and the ability to own a house (by which I mean the ability to raise a deposit rather than afford mortgage payments) is greater than it has ever been, especially in the south-east. I know several youngsters who, without the help of the Bank of Mum and Dad, would be stuck in rented accommodation forever. I know plenty of others who aren’t so lucky, as well, and for whom the possibility of owning their own home is less likely than their sprouting wings.

Milliband said: “We will stop the large developers sitting on land and we will back the thousands of small developers and construction companies with access to new loans, there will be new towns, garden cities and suburbs with a half a million new homes.

“Housing will be a top priority in our capital investment programme – this party will get Britain building again.”

Jolly good. Except, as the rather splendid Lord Simon Wolfson said at the BMF Members’ Day event last week, it’s not all down to housebuilders and developers sitting on land.

Wolfson’s argument that the planning system in England and Wales (the Scottish one has always been slightly different) is no longer fit for purpose struck a chord with anyone in the audience who had tried to get anything built, moved or developed anywhere that someone in a planning department might not like.

It is his belief that house price inflation is extremely destructive to us as a society. “It transfers wealth from young to old, on the whole, from north to south, from south to London and, most damagingly of all, from poor to rich.” House price inflation, he said, has less than you might think to do with the fact that we are lot of people on a relatively small island and a lot more to do with the restrictive planning system.

So, while it’s great that Milliband and his crew have cottoned onto the fact that we desperately need more houses building, they will need to understand that it’s not just that simple. Of course, when you’re in opposition it is that simple. You can make any promises you like, knowing that you might never have to make good on them, unless you get elected.

The words Nick Clegg and tuition fees spring to mind.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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