HOW MANY STUDIES DOES IT TAKE TO DISCOVER THAT THE SUPPLY OF NEW HOMES IN LONDON HAS FAILED TO MEET THE DEMANDS OF A GROWING CITY?
Great! Just what everyone either living or working in London needed – a commission headed by Lord Kerslake, the former head of the Civil Service, to see how the number of affordable homes could be increased in the capital. How many studies does it take for the message to permeate that the supply of homes, new or not, has to be vastly increased. It is somewhat ironic that it is the Institute of Public Policy Reform has set-up the commission as Lord Kerslake has said that London’s housing shortage is one of the “biggest public policy failures of the last fifty years.” (This will be, as far as I can tell, the seventh time that the IPPR will have put its name to a report on housing in the last five years.)
Lord Kerslake has said his job is not about blaming anyone although he did criticise the proposal by the present government to extend the right to buy to housing associations. That is to Lord Kerslake’s credit but if it is a failure of public policy therefore someone in public office is to blame. The biggest cause of the shortage of supply in housing has been the failure to replace the millions of homes that were sold off since the passing of the Right to Buy Act in 1980. The billions from the sell-off went largely into the coffers of the Treasury and were not returned to local authorities. The folly of not replenishing the diminished housing stock continued under Labour. They foolishly believed that by transferring the housing stock belonging to local authorities to housing associations that they could also transfer their responsibilities and that housing associations and the private sector would fill the void left by local authorities. Yvette Cooper, secretary of state for communities and local government at the time, was asked, in an interview with Rowan Moore for Prospect magazine, if the decline in house building over the last 30/40 years was almost entirely due to the end of council housing building. Cooper stuck to the line that it was market failure that was the problem.
As journalist Anna Minton, formerly of the Financial Times, writes in her book Ground Control, the Labour government were in denial when the market failed to build enough homes to meet demand. At a debate on housing held at the Royal Society of Arts again Yvette Cooper was in denial when she was asked whether there was a housing crisis. She replied that the situation was “challenging”. Once more she blamed the failure on the private sector for not responded to the rising demand for private housing. Ultimately the failure, Minton concludes, was caused by politicians who were ideologically opposed to public housing building.
Ken Loach, who began his career as a film director with the BBC documentary Cathy Come Home in the 1960s, was asked at a housing rally recently who he considered was to blame for the housing crisis. The politicians were to blame, he said, and “We keep electing the wrong politicians.”
Terry McGrenera, the House Party; Homes for Londoners