The government is promising £3.7bn for affordable housing – but will this solve the housing crisis?

Great, all we need is another 249,999 of those every year and we're sorted. Image: Getty.

This post is presented by WhatHouse? the leading portal for new build homes in the UK.

As part of last year’s Autumn Statement, chancellor Philip Hammond said the government would invest £3.7bn in building 140,000 new houses – 40,000 of them classed as “affordable”. The announcement was cautiously welcomed by many within the housing industry; a number of other industry figures, though, were quick to point out that £3.7bn was still a drop in the ocean compared to what was really needed to tackle the housing crisis.

So who’s right? Could this £3.7bn make some difference or even solve the housing crisis altogether? Or has the housing crisis already got to a stage where it would be nigh on impossible for any government to tackle it successfully?

Apart from anything else, it’s hard to overestimate the scale of the UK housing crisis right now. The Redfern Review, published in November last year, was just one report of many to highlight how severe the shortage of affordable homes had become. It showed that since 1996 real house prices have risen 151 per cent, whilst wage growth has been much slower – and for the last decade has entirely stagnated. 

The result of this is the average price of a UK home is now six times the average income. This widening ratio between house prices and earnings means it’s younger house buyers in particular who are finding it hard to get on the property ladder. This in is just one consequence of a complex housing crisis that looks increasingly difficult to solve with each year that goes by.

The good news is that, in addition to the £3.7bn put aside for new homes, the Chancellor also announced that the government was committed to doubling the annual capital spending on housing. Further good news is that the government has pledged is to build 200,000 new homes each year until a total of one million new-build properties are completed by 2020-21.


However, most analysts believe that at least 250,000 new homes need to be built annually, to keep up with population growth alone. In addition, the government’s promised figure of 200,000 new homes is thought by many to be a little optimistic. Only 160,000 new houses were completed in the UK during 2015.

As for that £3.7bn investment, even if it doesn’t make a significant impression in regards to the overall housing crisis, its importance as the headline act in the chancellor’s first Autumn Statement could still prove to be significant. It suggests that the government is indeed serious about making housing policy one of its top priorities, as it has previously stated.

It should also be noted that the first major government policy announcement of 2017 was regarding housing and the creation of 14 “garden” towns and villages in England which should result in around 200,000 new homes being built.

So if, sometime in the next few years, it becomes clear that the housing situation has significantly improved due to government policy, then the £3.7bn announced in last year’s Autumn Statement may be remembered – not so much for the actual amount, but as the first sign the government was genuinely willing to tackle the crisis. The next test to see if this optimism holds up is when the government’s White Paper on housing is published later this month.

Keith Osborne is online editor at WhatHouse?, the UK’s best new homes portal and housing scheme advisory source. Keith has over 15 years’ experience writing within the property and new build homes industry. Each year he inspects new build homes as a regular judge for the biggest housebuilder awards in the UK – The WhatHouse? Awards.

 
 
 
 

“Black cabs are not public transport”: on the most baffling press release we’ve seen in some time

An earlier black cab protest: this one was against congestion and pollution. I'm not making this up. Image: Getty.

You know, I sometimes think that trade unions get a raw deal in this country. Reports of industrial action almost always frame it as a matter of workers’ selfishness and public disruption, rather than one of defending vital labour rights; and when London’s tube grinds to a halt, few people will find out what the dispute is actually about before declaring that the drivers should all be replaced by robots at the earliest possible opportunity or, possibly, shot.

We should be a bit more sympathetic towards trade unions, is what I’m saying here: a bit more understanding about the role they played in improving working life for all of us, and the fact that defending their members’ interests is literally their job.

Anyway, all that said, the RMT seems to have gone completely fucking doolally.

TAXI UNION RMT says that the closure of the pivotal Bank Junction to all vehicles (other than buses and bicycles) exposes Transport for London’s (TfL) symptom-focused decision-making and unwillingness to tackle the cause of the problem.

So begins a press release the union put out on Thursday. It’s referring to a plan to place new restrictions on who can pass one of the City of London’s dirtiest and most dangerous junctions, by banning private vehicles from using it.

The junction in question: busy day. Image: Google.

If at first glance the RMT’s words seem reasonable enough, then consider two pieces of information not included in that paragraph:

1) It’s not a TfL scheme, but a City of London Corporation one (essentially, the local council); and

2) The reason for the press release is that, at 5pm on Thursday, hundreds of black cab drivers descended on Bank Junction to create gridlock, in their time-honoured way of whining about something. Blocking major roads for several hours at a time has always struck me as an odd way of trying to win friends and influence people, if I’m frank, but let’s get back to the press release, the next line of which drops a strong hint that something else is going on here:

TfL’s gutlessness in failing to stand-up to multi-national venture capital-backed raiders such as Uber, has left our streets flooded with minicabs.

That suggests that this is another barrage in the black cabs’ ongoing war against competition from Uber. This conflict is odd in its way – it’s not as if there weren’t minicabs offering a low cost alternative to the classic London taxi before Uber came along, but we’ve not had a lengthy PR war against, say, Gants Hill Cars – but it’s at least familiar territory, so it’d be easy, at this point, to assume we know where we are.

Except then it gets really weird.

With buses stuck in gridlock behind haphazardly driven Uber cars – and with the Tube dangerously overcrowded during peak hours – people are turning out of desperation to commuting by bicycle.

Despite its impracticality, there has been an explosion in the number of people commuting by bike. Astonishingly, 30% of road traffic traversing Bank Junction are now cyclists.

Soooo... the only reason anyone might want to cycle is because public transport is now bad because of Uber? Not because it’s fun or healthy or just nicer than being stuck in a metal box for 45 minutes – because of badly driven Ubers something something?

Other things the cabbies will blame Uber for in upcoming press releases: climate change, Brexit, the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in July 1870, the fact they couldn’t get tickets for Hamilton.

It is time that TfL refused to licence Uber, which it acknowledges is unlawfully “plying for hire”.

Okay, maybe, we can talk about that.

It is time that black cabs were recognised and supported as a mode of public transport.

...what?

It is time that cuts to the Tube were reversed.

I mean, sure, we can talk about that too, but... can you go back to that last bit, please?

RMT General Secretary, Mick Cash, said:

“RMT agrees with proposals which improve public safety, but it is clear that the driving factor behind the decision is to improve bus journey times under a buckling road network.

“Black cabs are an integral part of the public transport system and as the data shows, one of the safest.”

This is all so very mixed up, it’s hard to know where to begin. Black cabs are not public transport – as lovely as they are, they’re simply too expensive. Even in New York City, where the cabs are much, much cheaper, it’d be silly to class them as public transport. In London, where they’re so over-priced they’re basically the preserve of the rich and those who’ve had enough to drink to mistakenly consider themselves such, it’s just nonsense.

Also – if this decision has been taken for the sake of improving bus journey times, then what’s wrong with that? I haven’t run the numbers, but I’d be amazed if that wasn’t a bigger gain to the city than “improving life for the people who take cabs”. Because – as I may have mentioned – black cabs are not public transport.


Anyway, to sum the RMT’s position up: we should invest in the tube but not the buses, expensive black cabs are public transport but cheaper Ubers are the work of the devil, and the only reason anyone would ever go by bike is because they’ve been left with no choice by all those people in the wrong sort of taxi screwing everything up. Oh, and causing gridlock at peak time is a good way to win friends.

Everyone got that straight?

None of this is to say Uber is perfect – there are many things about it that are terrible, including both the way people have mistaken it for a revolutionary new form of capitalism (as opposed to, say, a minicab firm with an app), and its attitude to workers (ironically, what they could really do with is a union). The way TfL is acting towards the firm is no doubt imperfect too.

But the RMT’s attitude in this press release is just baffling. Of course it has to defends its members interests – taxi drivers just as much as tube drivers. And of course it has to be seen to be doing so, so as to attract new members.

But should it really be trying to do both in the same press release? Because the result is a statement which demands TfL do more for cab drivers, slams it for doing anything for bus users, and casually insults anyone on two wheels in the process.

A union’s job is to look after its members. I’m not sure nonsense like this will achieve anything of the sort.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.