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Broken housing: from Thatcher onwards, all are guilty

09 February, 2017

Margaret Thatcher

TURN on TV news, look online, pick up a newspaper – and they all echo the government’s latest mantra about Britain’s “broken housing market”.

Rarely is the question asked: But who caused the problem? It is as if the collapsed housing market – a stain on a highly developed economy – has suddenly come out of the blue, a new phenomenon, without any history.

It is condemned as an injury to the nation but no one asks: Who was the assailant? The fact is all governments from Mrs Thatcher’s administration in the early 1980s onwards are guilty of the crime.

While house-building was given priority in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, it went missing in Tony Blair’s government as well as in the 2010 Coalition and David Cameron’s. Though Mrs May is making a hot topic of it now it didn’t appear to seriously concern her in her early months.

Labour fulminate against the Conservatives for allowing “home ownership to go in freefall” in the past eight years. But is Labour itself innocent? If ever there was an opportunity to emulate the massive building programme of the 1950s it was handed to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – and wasted.

The key could have been turned by a gigantic municipal programme similar to that of the early post-war years but New Labour and the Conservatives share an aversion to the public sector.

Even when it comes to the rental market today Mrs May shuns the introduction of any form of rent control or really tight rules governing landlords.

The housing market is broken – but Mrs May shows no sign of being able to mend it.

Fair challenge over planning

The Purchese Street oasis in Somers Town where blocks of flats are set to be built

WHATEVER you think about the council’s regeneration schemes in Somers Town and in West Hampstead a question remains about process: Can a scheme where the council is the developer ever be properly challenged by the public?

Residents opposing a large housing and office block project of this kind must rightly feel aggrieved to see it waved through by their political masters.

Many will have left with the deflating afterthought that they had been fighting a losing battle and that the late-night dance that had played out before their eyes in the Town Hall was merely an illusion of scrutiny.

That is not necessarily to say there has been any foul play, or that one particular scheme or another has been unjustly considered.

But perhaps, in what could be thought of as a democratic void, the Greater London Authority might have a role to play by providing an indepen­dent committee to scrutinise developments put forward and approved by councils.

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