In the early 1980s I led a significant shift towards a sustainable housing strategy in Sheffield.
Investing in the planned maintenance and modernisation of social housing – the fore-runner of the Labour government’s Decent Homes’ Programme.
Establishing local minimum standards for new build – as the then Conservative government did away with the Parker-Morris standards.
Working with local house-builders to prioritise building mixed tenure developments on brownfield sites.
Promoting area renewal of older private housing.
It was also under-pinned with a big investment in apprentice training, supported by contract compliance, with every council contractor having to employ and train apprentices.
Unsurprisingly, the Thatcher governments swept that all away. Investment in improvement and new-build was slashed. The developers went back to putting green-field development first. Contract compliance was made unlawful and apprentice training fell dramatically leading to a large increase in bricklayers, plumbers and electricians from Eastern Europe.
In 1997, the new Labour government inherited a significant and growing gap between housing need and supply. It prioritised investment in the successful Decent Homes programme but didn’t build enough new homes. I have said this publicly and clearly.
But the big problem is that the Cameron/Clegg government has built even fewer. It has presided over the lowest level of housebuilding since the 1920s.
By any measure, this government’s housing performance has been a massive failure.
Owner-occupation has dived to new lows, with fewer households able to afford to buy.
Private rents have soared and security has been lost.
Just one new home has been completed for every 21 sold under the Right-to-Buy and new loopholes in the planning system have increased building on greenfield sites.
Cameron’s recent announcements on subsidies for new starter homes is no solution. Minimum building standards are removed along with the necessary contribution to the local infrastructure . We need to build at least 200,000 new homes affordable and of good quality. We will have to use some public money to achieve this investment but surely this is better than paying for ever rising levels of housing benefit to fund rising private rents fuelled by a housing shortage.
We have a housing crisis and need long-term investment not short-term fixes to deal with it.