September 25th 2021
Compared with the rest of the world the UK is pretty well off. There is no real reason why a secure home should not be affordable for everyone.
The Story of affordable housing since the end of the second world war is a litany of negligence, incompetence, and apathy by governments of all colours together with the barefaced and uncontrolled greed of less than twenty big developers.
It does seem to me that as the sixth richest nation on the planet the very least we could do would be to make sure that everyone who lives here has a warm safe home.
The fact that we don’t appear to be able to manage even that produces a deep and burning anger in me. I now find it difficult even to write about it in rational, measured terms. So I probably won’t.
In 2019 The Land Magazine kindly asked me to contribute an article about the housing crisis, a problem to which I have now devoted half my life.
It was mainly to see if I could have a go at answering the following. Where are we now? How did we get here? Is there anyone we can blame? And what do we do next?
This is an edited version of that article which appeared in issue 25 in 2019. It was nice of them to ask me and give me the chance to write about it, and what I thought we might do next.
So far as I recall my article prompted not a single response. Not one word of either praise or criticism. Story of my life really!
But here it is anyway.
Either we all live in a decent world, or nobody does.George Orwell
Land and the Housing Crisis
For most of us, a secure home is at the heart of our identity, and the foundation on which our participation in society sits. Failure to address the shortage of decent homes handicaps us in facing all the other difficulties in our lives. The current housing crisis in the UK is a politically created problem, brought about by a dogmatic reliance on market forces to regulate a market which is not a market. It is both symptom and cause of a divided and fractured society at the core of this dysfunction, and also at the heart of the remedy, is the ownership and control of our land. It may be less important than global warming in the scheme of things, but it is considerably more real and immediate for many of us.
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
Average UK house prices are now eight times average earnings and therefore completely unaffordable to those on an average wage. By some measures we need as many as 3.91 million homes by 2031. Having reached 50 percent in the sixties and peaked at just over 70 percent in 2003, home ownership is now heading back to 60 percent. The irony is that there are five million families desperate to mortgage themselves to the hilt with their own money if there were houses they could afford to buy
In 2004 Kate Barker forecast housing need at 250,000 homes per annum over the next 20 years. Even half that annual number has yet to be achieved. The Shelter cross party commission reported in January 2019 that 3.1 million social homes will be needed for rent over the next twenty years.
The National Housing Federation (NHF) say that 40 percent of those renting are paying over 50 percent of their income, despite one third being reckoned to be an affordable maximum. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) estimated that the number in temporary accommodation would rise from around 80,000 to over 100,000 in 2020, and that 3.6 million children and two million pensioners are living in bad housing. Rough sleepers have risen by 169 percent since 2010. Forty percent of the Council homes sold under the 1980 Housing Act are now in the hands of private landlords.
There is an endless litany of depressing figures to choose from. On paper these numbers are mere words. As facts they represent nearly half a century of Treasury, civil service and political complacency—or wilful blindness.
As a reality for those trapped in the figures it is the prospect of a lifetime on the edge of being cold and hungry. It is a gut wrenching indictment of the divided society in which we live. Of course, most of us get by. That is the problem. That is why it is so hard to persuade politicians that this is a priority. Because most of us get by. For me that isn’t enough.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
After the end of the second world war the 1947 Town and Country Planning Land Act laid the foundations for current planning control and strategy. It has been a mixed blessing. It addressed unregulated urban sprawl, and introduced the compulsory purchase powers needed to acquire land for major public housing development. For efficiency, the strategy was to concentrate building on large developments close to well serviced existing centres of population. This strategic view may have been appropriate at the time, but its implications have contributed to many of our current problems.
It has led to a “big site” attitude by governments of all parties, enabling the housing market to be dominated by a few major developers. The UK is almost unique in allowing its housing infrastructure to be manipulated by so few companies. The legacy has been half a century of large, arid developments and the ossification of villages, starved of the organic growth needed to maintain the shops, buses and services they have now lost. Perhaps worst of all it provided an excuse for the growth of disastrous “not in my back yard” attitudes to the provision of both homes and community infrastructure right across the country.
Since 1969 house prices and rents have increased at a faster rate than average earnings. This was always unsustainable. It is not just a bad idea; it means that sooner or later the wheels come off. And now they have. 1969 was the first time that home ownership reached 50 percent of home tenure, and the last point at which home ownership was genuinely affordable to those on an average wage. The average house cost about £4,200, and the average wage was about £1,500 a year. At the time this was a ratio of about three to one; building societies regarded it as affordable as it left enough to live on after mortgage payments. This means that it is now half a century since buying a home was affordable to a family on an average income. And this isn’t bad luck, or just the way things are. It is specifically poor policy made by governments who are either incompetent or don’t care, being manipulated by big greedy business that knows exactly what it is doing.
BUYING VOTES WITH HOMES
Home ownership was, and still is, the aspiration of around 85 percent of people in the UK. This is why the sale of council houses enshrined in the 1980 Housing Act was a political masterstroke, successfully boosting the Conservative vote, as it was designed to. It was massively popular, and in itself not entirely daft. But the Thatcher government needs to be held to account for how and why it was done.
In 1980, Bristol had a population just over 400,000, and around 150,000 dwellings, of which nearly one third were council homes. There was a waiting list of 2000, but a relet rate of one and a half percent. In other words ninety eight and a half percent of tenants never moved. Selling some of our stock to those who weren’t going to move, and offering a discount to many who had long since paid for the cost of their home in rent, seemed a reasonable idea. It might have been, if the capital receipts had been used to build more council houses to tackle the waiting list. But this was not allowed. Most of the money had to be used to pay off council housing “mortgage” which was being perfectly adequately covered by rents. It was a gross stupidity now universally acknowledged. To me that almost makes it worse.
For that massive strategic failure I hold Margaret Thatcher and her government directly responsible.
I was elected to Bristol City Council in 1979, and was a Councillor for twelve years. That may not sound very long but when I was elected I was 38 and when I retired I was 50 and that is a big chunk of your life. So when I did retire from the council in 1991 we had sold a third of our housing stock, we had a waiting list of 8,000, we had the young and vulnerable sleeping on the streets, and I think we had built seventeen council houses. That situation was created almost entirely by dogma driven stupidity. Today very few council homes sold under the 1980 Act are within the purchasing power of first time buyers. Forty percent of them are in the hands of private landlords, many at unaffordable rents.
I hold all governments since then directly responsible for that massive policy failure.
It is unforgivable
Over the last forty years or so governments of all parties have set innumerable targets for home building, not a single one of which they have ever met. Only in its last term in office did Labour spend more on social housing than the previous Conservative government. Both parties continued the dogma driven coercive “stock transfer” of council homes to Registered Providers. Almost all attempts to increase home ownership with financial incentives served only to further increase prices beyond the reach of most of us. Attempts to encourage increased rates of building have resulted in further failures to meet targets, and bigger profits and bonuses for the big builders. Every government since 1980 has insisted that housing was a priority, but failed to get to grips with the underlying causes that were feeding the problem.
And here is the ultimate irony.
In relative terms it is no more expensive to build a home now than it was fifty years ago when to buy or rent was genuinely affordable. What has changed is the cost of the land that a home sits on. If we had enough free land, we could still build all the affordable homes we need today for rent or purchase.
The land we don’t have to buy is that which we already own: public land. And yet such land has been stupidly squandered for that entire half century, latterly through agencies such as Homes England, in exchange for the myth of affordability. In 2006 Trevor Beattie of English Partnerships boasted that he had over 30,000 hectares of public land to dispose of for housing. And yet, local authorities of all parties have been forced, bludgeoned, bribed and beguiled into selling their land, often at giveaway prices and sometimes for nothing. This policy has demonstrably and spectacularly failed. It has been an act of almost unprecedented stupidity. Out of touch politicians have controlled strategic planning policy in a way that guarantees to throttle market supply of land which inevitably pushes up prices; that is what a market is.
SO WHAT DO WE DO NOW?
So, stop selling publicly owned land for housing at giveaway prices to big speculative developers. It is madness. Stop it at Government level and local government level. Suspend the sale of council homes. Stop the sale of Housing Association homes. Don’t stop building. Just stop selling or virtually giving away the freehold of the land which is already ours. We could be using this land as a cash free subsidy to provide affordability. We should be granting leases on it so that affordability can be passed on and the freehold remains owned by all of us. We already have land and we could acquire more for the public good. Despite the “not in my back yard brigade” we also have enough of it if we value warm safe homes above other uses such as offices and shopping malls. We just need to get on and do it.
IT IS NOT VERY DIFFICULT FFS!
September 27th 2021
So, we could build all the homes we need and it really isn’t difficult. We could be well on the way to solving the problem within a generation if we start now. But perhaps we need to take a step back and catch you up before I try to explain the actual mechanisms we could use.
When I was still on the council and afterwards in the nineties I tried to interest anyone who would listen in the idea of a National Experimental Housing Exhibition, because I thought that innovative design and the use of new materials could bring house design up to date and help to deliver the affordability that many of us were already beginning to worry about.
I thought it was a pretty sexy idea. I was looking for a nice big derelict site in Avonmouth for example, close to the M4/M5 junction. The exhibition was to give individuals and organisations of any kind the chance to design build and show off an affordable home. The rules were to be pretty minimal, and since they weren’t permanent homes there wasn’t a problem with planning. What I had in mind was a down to earth, informal, exciting place to show off the kind of houses people might like to think about living in, compared to the retro, faux, increasingly cramped and tacky boxes that they were being force fed as a captive market by a dozen major developers driven only by profit.
The Government wouldn’t support the idea because they funded the Building Research Establishment at Watford, so that was that. As far as I was concerned the BRE was sponsored, and its agenda controlled, by the big companies, whose interest in cheapness was directed entirely towards profit and not affordability. I do realise that this is a jaundiced view but the last thirty years has produced very little evidence to the contrary. I am afraid that I am now even more convinced that the BRE is no more than a biddable puppet of the construction industry. It may turn out that they are also part of the story of the Grenfell Tower disaster and indirectly partly responsible for it.
I still think the experimental housing exhibition was a sexy idea, but by the time I retired from having to earn a living in 2006 I think the whole concept had been overtaken by land prices. You could build a house for fourpence, but it would still be unaffordable to the average family if the land it sat on cost £150K. The situation has only got worse since then.
The Barker Report on housing supply, commissioned by the Labour Government was published in June 2004. Kate Barker proposed that we would need to build between 250 – 300,000 houses per year for twenty years to keep on top of the problem. She recognised that there was already a problem of affordability but suggested that if we built the numbers, that problem would solve itself.
By the summer of 2006 I was convinced that numbers alone wouldn’t do it, and in any case we were already lamentably failing to build anything like the numbers Kate Barker had proposed.
John Prescott, as Deputy Prime Minister had sponsored a competition for the £60K house which generated a huge amount of baseless optimism about affordability. There was a big “Tarantara” about the winner and I went to the launch in London in the spring of 2006. The house itself was pretty underwhelming. The whole exercise was regarded by most of us with various degrees of derision and by all the professional bodies as a distraction. The only ones that were built were a few in his constituency that went on sale at £190K!
So far as the public was concerned it was a bit of a con, and they were right.
I wrote to him. I proposed that the problem was the cost of the land, that the high cost of the land was because its supply was restricted, not only by the ineptitude of the government, but by the big developers. Even then they were making more money by not building houses than by building them and fixing their margins. They could just sit on the land and watch its value grow. It reminded me of the beginnings of Shelter.
This was about Centre point, a block of offices in London that the owners decided was more profitable if they kept it empty. This was because if it was empty they didn’t have to pay rates on it. If they let it they would have to fix the rent for anything up to five or even seven years. If they kept it empty, it would just sit there and earn them 10% a year!
So I told him that the way the market was going numbers alone would not bring houses back to being affordable. And in any case we weren’t building the numbers.
I suggested that one of the ways that we might think about delivering genuine affordability was to use publicly held land as a cash free subsidy. At the time English Partnerships was the Government Quango charged with delivering housing on surplus government land and was apparently sitting on more than 30,000 hectares of it!
I don’t expect that either he, or his colleagues, or the clever civil servants in his department read any of it, and even if they had, they probably wouldn’t really understand how crucial it was.
The reply I got from him, and subsequently from Ruth Kelly, the minister for housing, was roughly that they had commissioned research by Reading University to check out Kate Barker’s assertion about numbers, which had confirmed that numbers would solve the problem. In addition Government measures now in place were on target to produce 200,000 new homes per year for the period 2005 to 2008. So bog off!
Well, they weren’t meeting Barkers target by miles, and no government since has got even close to half of it.
So, I decided to get the research they were talking about. It was published in December 2005, ISBN 1851127992. It simply didn’t confirm the government’s assertion. It said that numbers would indeed affect price, but to have any significant effect, the numbers would have to be very large.
By the autumn of 2006 I had begun to develop the idea of using public land to deliver affordability into a serious working model. I was also proposing that if the freehold of the land remained in public ownership we could restrict the resale price which would keep the home affordable for future buyers.
The idea of using free, or cheap land to deliver affordable homes was neither my original idea nor a new concept. Neither was the idea that if you could restrict the resale price you could keep a home affordable. A whole raft of models broadly under the heading of Community Land Trusts had been pioneered in the eastern United States, and were a small but valuable contribution to the increasingly recognised housing affordability “problem”.
But Community Land Trusts had a number of fundamental disadvantages. Basically, they were a rather cuddly community ownership scheme for small groups, so the model did not lend itself to being the answer to the mass housing of the general population. CLTs were often fiendishly complicated in terms of the rules of joining, who owned what and how you got in or out. Perhaps the biggest problem of all was that they almost invariably depended on the philanthropic provision of land as a gift or very cheap. This meant that as a general formula it was neither replicable nor scalable. There was also the problem of getting a mortgage. If a lender couldn’t get a first charge on the freehold they simply wouldn’t lend. So for most people even an apparently cheap house wasn’t an option if they couldn’t get a mortgage to buy it.
My model dealt with all these problems. Most important of all it used publicly owned land so it did not depend on philanthropy or gifted land. And, according to English Partnerships (EP) we had got over 30,000 hectares of it all over the country, and more coming on stream all the time. Since we owned it already, we could easily “use” it as a cash free subsidy to deliver affordable houses more or less wherever we wanted to. There would be no problem of the resilience of governance because the freehold would remain in public ownership. Although lenders might take a bit of persuading I was pretty confident that we could get them on board by guaranteeing mortgages. The scheme would be easily both replicable and scalable.
I had already had a useless reply from John Prescott, and Ruth Kelly was now the new Secretary of State, so I wrote to her again. There followed an exasperatingly frustrating series of letters between her office and me. I didn’t know exactly who these civil servants were but they seemed to demonstrate an almost perverse determination not to grasp the principles of the model. Either that, or I explained it really badly. Eventually she agreed to a meeting with her office.
It was set up for December 6th 2006 at Eland House. I was hugely optimistic that this was to be the beginning of a small revolution in the provision of genuinely affordable housing.
It turned out to be a depressing disaster. I pitched the model to several posh young men who appeared to have more degrees than most of Somerset put together but seemed entirely lacking in the common sense they were born with. The only person who got it was Marlene Rodney who remained a source of encouragement for nearly a decade before retiring without ever having become as important as I hoped she would.
Of course it might be that I made a crap job of explaining it, and I am sure that I could have done better…. but, they were convinced there wasn’t a housing problem. They were doing an experiment with a Community Land Trusts at Cashes Green in Gloucestershire so we needn’t do another one. It seemed impossible for me to explain that our model was both different and better. They also felt that the loss of capital receipts from the sale of land was a big issue. Subsequently this turned out to be complete bollocks of course.
They thought that my model meant “interference with market forces” and was therefore my model was a very bad idea, that their own shared ownership and homebuy schemes were effectively doing the job, and that in any case they were on target and the problem would go away. We now know that those schemes and most of those that followed to promote particularly first time ownership simply pushed up prices.
Ruth Kelly’s minions had not been asked to report back to her and were merely going to pass the details of our meeting to English Partnerships.
I left the meeting feeling very dispirited and got on the coach back to Bridgwater.
Having licked my wounds after the London meeting, the next thing to do was to follow up with English Partnerships and see what we could do with them. I knew it wouldn’t be easy because EP didn’t have any policy making power and I had always felt that this needed to be driven from the top.
I managed to get a meeting with Steve Carr, who was the head of Strategic Planning or something. So I got my pensioners cheap day return coach ticket and trotted up to London. Actually making trips to London was surprisingly easy. The coach left from Bridgwater bus station and came into Victoria, and I could walk to EP in Buckingham Palace Road, or to where the Department for Communities was and even down to the Houses of Parliament on occasions.
I met Steve Carr, who was accompanied by an unbelievably annoying woman assistant who nodded sagely at everything he said whilst giving me a very stern look. Within minutes he had told me that my proposals were of no interest to EP at all, and that unless he was specifically instructed to do anything by the department for communities DCLG he wasn’t proposing to do anything at all. His assistant nodded vigorously. Apart from anything else he said, I had “no constituency”. I found out afterwards that this meant that I had no “cred” according to him. He did say that if I was going to get anywhere with this I would have to demonstrate that it worked with a small scheme somewhere. If I did that, he said, they might be interested in looking at it. I explained that since the model depended on using the publicly held land he was in charge of, would he like to find us some and get the Secretary of State to deal with keeping it in public ownership? He said that wasn’t really his problem and goodbye!
So it was back on the coach to the Somerset bogs.
In the end I got to see Duncan Innes at EP. I don’t think I was really his problem either but he understood the model and was prepared to help. He paid for a firm of consultants called Ikon to do a research paper on the model, to see if it would work.
The paper was published in June 2008 and Duncan Innes and Peter Scott and I met with the Ikon people at EP’s offices in Buckingham Palace Road to look at it with them.
Basically it said that the model worked but that it was more profitable to buy a house on the open market. This meant that they did not really see this as an attractive option. Well, we all know it is more profitable to buy on the open market, but it does rather depend on you being able to afford to which was of course exactly what this was about.
They had based their figures on the assumption that over the medium term, say fifteen years, house price inflation would be 8% and the cost of living would rise by 3.5%. They therefore saw the government scheme of shared ownership and stair casing as a better bet. It meant that a new buyer could enter the market at the same level as my Landhold model and by buying the remainder of the equity in stages would finish up owning an open market house and have made lots of money!
The problem was that you had to staircase at current market price. This meant that if your staircasing cost went up by 8% and wages by only 3.5% you could never afford to catch up, which is exactly what happened. What their paper inadvertently also showed was that by 2020 nobody on a wage or salary would be able to enter the housing market at all. And this seems to be exactly where we have already got to.
I got very grumpy, announced that making a profit out of your house wasn’t the point, and, based on the figures they had used, the entire market was unsustainable. This meant that sooner rather than later the wheels would come off, and stomped out. I went over the road to the Victoria Shopping Mall thing and got cross over a cup of coffee until the meeting was over and Peter came over to find and console me. So back on the coach again! It may now be some consolation to know that by the end of 2008 we had a world economic collapse brought about by irresponsible greed, and that the wheels had indeed come off. But it didn’t really make me feel much better. “And it isn’t over, I told them all, and it is going to get worse and we are still charging towards the buffers at full speed.”
During the next eight years, I lobbied, nagged, and wrote to everyone I could think of, and had no effect at all. I nearly got Duncan Innes to do something on the Olympic Legacy Site that he became in charge of, but then he left and went to the private sector. I think he went and earned huge amounts of money with Crest Nicholson. I very nearly got a major scheme going with Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) until John Betty left to go and do something more important in Doncaster. I wrote to each new Housing Minister, but to be honest all I got was standard letters and ministers changed too often to really understand what they were doing anyway. After the 2010 election my old friend Don Foster, who had become MP for Bath was a housing minister. I got on the coach again to the Houses of Parliament and saw him with a minder, who explained to both of us that whilst it was an interesting idea, it didn’t fit their model. Don didn’t have the gumption to argue. I had also been told this by Peter Ruback who I think was a mandarin in the DCLG. He once introduced me as having the most interesting proposals on housing he had ever come across, and then ignored me. He got made a lord, as did Don Foster. When another old friend, George Ferguson got to be Mayor of Bristol, I couldn’t persuade him either. I wrote to the Rowntree Trust, The Chartered Institute of Surveyors, The Commission for the Built environment, in fact anyone who had ever said they were interested in housing. Many of them were sympathetic but none proved to be of any use at all. I wrote as officially as I could to Shelter, and all I got was a form to fill in as a volunteer. I think I wrote to each succeeding Housing Minister. Looking through my files, it turns out that I wrote to some I now don’t even remember!
And I managed to produce this diagram of how it worked.
And then it all went a bit squibbly.
It is very hard for me to come to terms having achieved virtually nothing between the publication of the Ikon report in 2008 and the announcement of a flash election by Mrs May on April18th 2017. Well, certainly not anything that was going to make housing affordable!
I had already failed to get anywhere with Sajid Javid who Mrs May had made Secretary of State despite his insistence that he was going to sort out housing.
The announcement of the election means that I can kiss goodbye to getting any sense out of anyone until after the election on June 8th.
Thursday May 11th 2017
I need to talk to Gavin Barwell who is the Housing Minister.
It is obviously a complete waste of time trying to get through to him at the Department of Communities because the civil servants just hijack anything you send, and write you stupid letters.
So this is what happened.
Normally I can’t approach a minister about his job as a minister by going to his constituency because I am not one of his constituents, and he isn’t really allowed to talk to me about Ministry business. I have no idea why but those are the rules.
However, now it is election time and the rules change.
So I hatched a cunning plan!
I know exactly where he is at the moment. He is in his constituency canvassing.
This is a very silly election but if I was Theresa May I would have done precisely the same thing. If you are a politician and your enemy is down, you put the boot in, and she gets a full five years to do the best Brexit deal she can. She will walk it. The only question to me is by how much?
I set off to drive the hundred and fifty miles to London at some ungodly time of the morning armed with a toothbrush and little idea of how I was going to charm my way into what I would normally regard as the enemy’s nest. Bear in mind that the whole purpose of this exercise is to get to see the minister and try to persuade him to take our proposals seriously.
In nearly half a century of voting I have voted for nearly everyone at one time or another for what seemed like good reasons at the time.
I haven’t belonged to any political party for over a quarter of a century. This has proved to be something of a let off since I don’t remember agreeing with either everything or nothing proposed by almost any political party.
I had decided that my approach would be simply that I had turned up to help and was there anything useful I could do?
Croydon turned out to be further round the M25 than I had realised, rather more full of traffic than I had expected and both leafier and more depressingly urban than I thought it would be.
Satnav delivered me to his constituency office which was shut for the election. It was however staffed by three delightful young women who said they were allowed to be nice to me but were not allowed to get engaged with anything the least political, for reasons I didn’t quite understand. However, they sent me over to the Croydon South office which was campaign HQ for Croydon South and Central constituencies.
On the way over I was beset by even more doubts about how I was going to worm my way undetected, into the heart of what was obviously going to be a throbbing war room.
When I arrived, Ian was on his own surrounded by mounds of cardboard boxes and bits of paper. I’ve come to help, I said.
Brilliant, he said. Can you do some delivering? “Of course”, I said. He gave me a bundle of leaflets with a photocopy of the delivery walk exactly highlighted in fluorescent yellow. It is the very same system as we used when I delivered Liberal leaflets in Bristol nearly thirty years ago. And, just like the Liberals, he didn’t give me quite enough.
“I need to tell you I have an ulterior motive, I said. In exchange for helping I was hoping to buttonhole Gavin to talk about affordable housing”.
“Well, I can’t promise but I am sure we could fix that” he said, without missing a beat. “Any chance you could take another bundle which is close by?”
It was early afternoon when I finished and rang him to say I could do some more. Brilliant, he said. Actually, the office is closed at the moment, so if I tell you where the key is can you pop in and help yourself to a couple of bundles?
So I did, and it reminded me that politics is such a strange animal. More than a decade on Bristol City Council has taught me that whatever the bitter ideological divides between political parties and factions, politicians seem to share more with each other than they do with everyone else. And that is how the man in charge of the Croydon South election HQ tells a spy from the opposition which mat the key is under. And of course I delivered them all exactly as I said I would.
The interest of most of the population in politics is reduced to the occasional election in which nobody appears to believe anything anyone says and the result is a parliament that seldom reflects the way the electorate actually votes.
All political parties suffer from shortage of funds, shortage of members, the struggle to find decent candidates prepared to fight an election even if they know they will lose, or those able to accept the huge commitment which is the consequence of winning. Each party depends on a small dedicated nucleus to keep it alive and each has to mount the desperate call for volunteers at each election. So I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at how easy it was to help.
It was late afternoon by the time I rang Ian to say I delivered all mine. Would it help if I could do tomorrow as well, I said? “Yes please” said Ian. In fact, there was going to be a canvassing and delivery session that evening. Gavin would be at that, so I could probably arrange a meeting with him then.
I had arranged to stay the night with family in Reading and went to get something to eat. I find London a pretty grubby and depressing place these days and the bit I was currently in was no exception. I decided to pop into a pub where I had half a chance of a loo where I could wash my hands and get something to eat that wasn’t made of unattractive animal bits in a box. Three pubs I passed had closed and the last one I had time to go to served only bar snacks.
I arrived at the meeting place, met Gavin and arranged a meeting with him the following day, and was teamed up with Rebecca to do some delivering.
I had said that it was probably best not to put me on canvassing because although I probably knew as much about Conservative policy as anyone, I might turn out to be a bit of a loose cannon!
Rebecca was a neat and charming Indian girl who turned out to be a senior lecturer in something like politics and was going to be standing next year in the local elections. Since she asked, I said I thought the best way to get elected was to get stuck into what was going on in her ward and do stuff in her local area. I have a feeling that isn’t how most people get elected these days but it ought to be.
The next day Gavin and I sat down quietly, and talked about affordable housing. He was receptive and on the ball. He accepted that the Department civil servants were obstructive, and volunteered that they were “somewhat resistant to change”. He agreed that not allowing us to use the money from the sale of council houses in the eighties to build more was a mistake. Of course he did! He agreed that we should be building affordable council homes for rent. Of course he did! He agreed the help to buy and other schemes had just pushed up prices. What else could he say? He agreed that to pay a £100 million bonus to a property developer boss using our money to make even more money was a nonsense. Of course it is!
He has agreed to meet me after the election if he is still Minister for Housing, or introduce me to the new one if he has been promoted.
That is about all I can ask.
On June 8th he lost his seat! Mrs May had completely screwed up her election campaign and got precisely the result she deserved. And I had lost the best chance I had managed to create for ages. She then appointed Alok Sharma as Housing Minister. He is basically an accountant, has shown no discernible interest in housing as an issue, and according to his voting record, generally votes against anything in favour of the less well off.
So generally pretty depressing really
Tuesday January 9th 2018
Well, I have been through a bit of a downer over the last few months.
I had gone up to Croydon during the election campaign and persuaded Gavin Barwell, the Housing Minister to sit down with me after the election and have a serious discussion about the housing disaster we have brought upon ourselves. He lost his seat!
Recently, the main beneficiaries of the government’s attempt to solve the housing crisis so far seem to be the top people at builders like Persimmon. The top man there has just got an annual bonus of £100 million in addition to his salary. It is ridiculous! This has been in part brought about by the government’s help to buy scheme. By using our money to subsidise house purchase, they have just pushed up house prices making them even less affordable. This of course has increased profits for the builders who can now give our money to the top chaps without their even having to work for it. I despair!
I am not entirely sure what else I can do at the moment.
I am afraid that much of what follows is very serious, mostly true, very important and pretty boring.
So you might be better off switching to my Container Home Pilot Project. It is considerably more interesting to read, and in the end thanks to The Glastonbury Trust, two people got a warm safe home, which is a good thing.
Sunday October 17th 2021
Getting two people an affordable home appears to be the sum total of my effective contribution to a problem to which I have now devoted half my life. But at least it is something.
So, I think that’s it really. It now gets even more boring so
I think I will stop.
(c) Robin Howell