Ministers mustn’t let down future generations over housing – whatever happens in by-elections

After last week’s disastrous by-election result, some MPs have blamed the Government’s homes plan for alienating Tory voters in the South. It is clear that the Liberal Democrats were partly able to overturn the Conservatives’ 16,000 majority in Chesham & Amersham by weaponising constituents’ concerns about houses being built in their area, as well as HS2, and their environmental impact.

The news has furthered some Conservatives’ conviction that the Government should scrap, or at least rethink, its radical proposals to get housing done. “Look Boris Johnson, the electorate has given its verdict!” is the message they are hoping the Prime Minister hears, with up to 50 to 60 MPs reportedly prepared to rebel against the reforms. Many have been against them from the start, due to the impact that they will have on the greenfield sites.

With all of these objections, the question many renters will wonder is: what do those against the planning reforms propose instead? Because the housing crisis is urgent and not going away – prices have soared throughout the pandemic. Far from solving the crisis, the Conservatives have introduced policies that can increase demand, such as scrapping the net migration target. Do they realise the contradictions here?

As I have written before, I suspect part of the reason many MPs are relaxed on this issue is it doesn’t affect them. They earn enough to get out of the rental market and/ or live outside the South East, where demand is concentrated. They are insulated from the problems of Generation Rent. But sooner or later this problem is going to hit the Tories – hard – due to the demographics the party needs to attract at the next election (and that’s before we get to the societal consequences – birth rate etc).

As Stephen Bush has pointed out, it’s voters between 30 and 50 who will be the most vital group for parties to win over the next election. Sometimes this fact seems to be missed, due to lots of political conversations now revolving around regional demographics. Conservatives have been blamed for neglecting the South in the by-election, for instance. But we shouldn’t forget that renters, and the young, are people who also need their own “levelling up” push, and could be easily enticed by a party that understands this.

To be fair to Johnson and Robert Jenrick, the housing minister, they have made great efforts to get housing done. Steve Baker, too, is trying to find a way forward – suggesting that homeowners whose views or peace and quiet are affected by developments could receive cash compensation. There is still widespread inertia, however, and this is not only from the Tories.

Indeed, other parties that have spotted an opportunity in kicking off about “green spaces” and environmentalism. It’s interesting to note that Ed Davey – whose party succeeded in Chesham & Amersham because of its green space obsession – wants the UK should reopen negotiations with the EU on free movement. But where does he think people should live as the population expands?

Either way, Conservatives have to get a move on with housing, which is having a knock on effect on so many other parts of life. Today, for instance, Downing Street said it was finalising “proposals for coming up with a long term solution for social care”. But it seems ridiculous to think you can solve the issue without getting people housed. There are huge ramifications when one half of society (renters) has no security or way to save.

Yes the Chesham & Amersham result was disappointing. But it cannot be used to kick the can down the road on housing. The crisis needs a similar amount of urgency applied to it as has been done with climate change, in which the expression “what about the young’s futures?” was cried by the same parties that now see developers as the enemy. But what about the young’s future, hey?

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Author: Charlotte Gill


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