“A start, not an end”: the chief executive of Shelter on the government’s new council housing policy

A generic picture of some houses. Image: Getty.

Long after we’ve all forgotten about the stunt, the lozenge and the stage malfunction, let’s hope we remember Theresa May’s conference speech for setting a new course on the need for new social homes.

And quite right too. With the tragedy of Grenfell still all too fresh in our minds, and with millions of private renters struggling to keep their heads above water each month, this country is in desperate need of more good quality homes that people on low wages can afford.

We do have concerns that the meat beneath the speech doesn’t live up to its billing. But this commitment to build a new generation of council homes marks a big shift.

Comparing last week’s announcement to where the government was just two years ago is like night to day. Back then, funding for new social rent homes wasn’t on their radar at all, and plans to force councils to sell many remaining homes were being pushed through parliament.

Today, those policies are little more than bad memories. Instead, we have the promise of new powers and new money for councils to build new homes at social rents.

This may be more significant than just unpicking a few years’ harmful policy, though. Opposition parties have long talked a good game about council house building, but doing so in government is something that none have done seriously for more than 40 years. No Prime Minister has made it the lead announcement of a conference speech for even longer – since before party conference speeches were party conference speeches at all.


But speeches alone don’t build homes. To really make a difference to ordinary families, what we need is the detail that get foundations dug and cement poured. To do this at the scale needed, the government needs to do three things.

First, we need to see a commitment to rent levels that are low enough to be genuinely affordable to low-earning families. Theresa May has committed that the homes will be social rent “where the need is greatest”, but housing costs are unaffordable for people on low wages across much of the country. A commitment to build new low rent homes across the country is essential.

Second, we need many, many more social homes. The funding announced today is welcome but the reality is that with over 1.2m households on waiting lists already, this is only a fraction of the long-term investment required. It will need to be the start, rather than the end.

And third, we need to see councils being given new powers to get land into the system much more cheaply, so they can deliver better quality homes.

We should genuinely celebrate the possibility of a consensus on the new need for social rented homes. What’s needed now are the policy changes to justify its top billing.

Polly Neate is the chief executive of housing charity Shelter. This piece originally appeared on our sister site, the Staggers.

 
 
 
 

Which British cities have the bestest ultrafast broadband?

Oooh, fibre. Image: Getty.

The latest instalment of our series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities. 

Between the dark web, Breitbard News and Donald Trump's Twitter feed, it's abundantly clear that terrible things often happen on the internet. But good things happen here, too - like funny videos and kitten pictures and, though we say so ourselves, CityMetric. 

Anyway. The government clearly believes the internet is on balance a good thing, so it's investing more in improving Britain's broadband coverage. But which cities need the most work?

Luckily, those ultrafast cats at the Centre for Cities are on hand with a map of Britain's ultrafast broadband coverage, as it stood at the end of 2016. It shows the percentage of premises which have access to download speeds of 100Mbps or more. Dark green means loas, pale yellow means hardly any. Here's the map:

Some observations...

This doesn't quite fit the pattern we normally get with these exercises in which the south of England and a few other rich cities (Edinburgh, Aberdeen, York) look a lot healthier than the cities of the Midlands, South Wales and the North.

There are elements of that, sure: there are definitely more southern cities with good coverage, and more northern onse without it. But there are notable exceptions to the pattern, too. Those cities with very good coverage include Middlesbrough (88.0 per cent) and Dundee (89.4 per cent), not normally to be found near the top of anyone's rankings. 

Meanwhile, Milton Keynes - a positive boom town, on most measures - lingers right near the bottom of the chart, with just 12.9 per cent coverage. The only city with worse coverage is another city that normally ranks as rich and succesful: the Socttish oil capital Aberdeen, where coverage is just 0.13 per cent, a figure so low it rings alarm bells about the data. 

Here's a (slightly cramped) chart of the same data. 

Click to expand.

If you can spot a patten, you're a better nerd than I.

One thought I had was that perhaps there might be some correlation with population: perhaps bigger cities, being bigger markets, find it easier to get the requisite infrastructure built.

I removed London, Manchester and Birmingham from the data, purely because those three - especially the capital - are so much bgiger than the other cities that they make the graph almost unreadable. That don't, here's the result.

So, there goes that theory.

In all honesty, I'm not sure what could explain this disparity: why Sheffield and Southand should have half the broadband coverage of Middlesbrough or Brighton. But I suspect it's a tempory measure. 

All this talk of ultranfast broadband (100Mbps+), after all, superseded that of mere superfast broadband (just 24Mbps+). The figures in this dataset are 10 months old. It's possible that many of the left behind cities have caught up by now. But it's almost certain we'll be hearing about the need for, say, Hyperfast broadband before next year is out.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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