Boris Johnson now has the majority to fix the housing crisis – if he wants to

Get to it. Image: Getty.

The shock hung Parliament at the 2017 General Election was attributed in large part to a Rentquake: private renters voted in greater numbers and favoured Labour.

This time around, a similar pattern is harder to detect. Looking at the 47 marginal seats with a large private renter population, Labour lost Leave-voting Ipswich and Peterborough, but increased their majorities in seats like Reading East and Portsmouth South.

Exactly how private renters voted on Thursday will take some further analysis. But in the two and a half years since the renters’ movement announced itself as a political force, the Conservatives, worried about alienating a fifth of the population, have made some efforts to neutralise housing as an electoral issue.

The party’s manifesto contained two policies that Generation Rent has been campaigning for: reform of the deposit protection system to passport tenants’ cash between tenancies, and the abolition of unfair Section 21 evictions. The latter policy, which was adopted by all parties, will give tenants more security in their homes and prevent homelessness.

But without limits on rent increases, as advocated by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, unscrupulous landlords could still bully tenants who ask for repairs. When pressed on this in an interview, housing secretary Robert Jenrick rejected “old fashioned” rent controls and suggested mere “guidance” on rent increases would be considered as part of reforms.

The Tories also diverged from their opponents on building more social housing. They didn’t match the other parties’ commitments to 100,000 or more new social homes a year, only promising a “White Paper” to support their “continued supply”.

Instead, the focus of the housing elements of the party’s manifesto was home ownership. To help more people buy their own home, it has promised longer term mortgages and discounted starter homes. But if delivered – and not one of the 200,000 starter homes announced by David Cameron has been – these policies will only benefit those who can save in the first place. Two thirds of private renters have no savings at all – let alone enough for a 5 per cent deposit.

To really make a difference, the new government must invest in substantial numbers of new social homes. These would take the worst-off tenants out of the unaffordable private sector, in turn reducing demand in the wider market, bringing rents down for everyone. Only then would private renters enjoy more cash at the end of the month to put aside for the future – or put food on the table.

The size of the Conservatives’ victory presents Boris Johnson with two options: ignore the housing crisis and pay lip service to home ownership and house building; or use his political capital to do the right thing. Controversial but necessary decisions are needed on the green belt and property tax if we want a housing system that allows people to live near their work, and rewards them more for going to work than for owning property. These issues have been ducked by previous governments with shakier mandates and rebellious banckbenchers. But Johnson has more ability to ignore the party’s allies of landlords and take action – if he wants to.

Johnson’s speech on Friday morning suggested that we were getting more than just a traditional Conservative programme of government. He highlighted the trust that first-time Conservative voters placed in him and his party and the need not to let them down.

For many of these voters, they, their children and their grandchildren see no prospect of a stable home. Our polling shows that protection from eviction and rent control is popular, and with cross-party support, an effective package of tenancy reform would be a quick win for the new Parliament.

But democracy does not end at the ballot box and governments of any stripe must be held to their promises. Generation Rent will keep making renters’ voices heard, making the case for reform – and keeping the pressure on until we have a fair housing system.

Dan Wilson Craw is director of Generation Rent


Here’s a fantasy metro network for Birmingham & the West Midlands

Birmingham New Street. Image: Getty.

Another reader writes in with their fantasy transport plans for their city. This week, we’re off to Birmingham…

I’ve read with interest CityMetric’s previous discussion on Birmingham’s poor commuter service frequency and desire for a “Crossrail” (here and here). So I thought I’d get involved, but from a different angle.

There’s a whole range of local issues to throw into the mix before getting the fantasy metro crayons out. Birmingham New Street is shooting up the passenger usage rankings, but sadly its performance isn’t, with nearly half of trains in the evening rush hour between 5pm and 8pm five minutes or more late or even cancelled. This makes connecting through New Street a hit and, mainly, miss affair, which anyone who values their commuting sanity will avoid completely. No wonder us Brummies drive everywhere.

There are seven local station reopening on the cards, which have been given a helping hand by a pro-rail mayor. But while these are super on their own, each one alone struggles to get enough traffic to justify a frequent service (which is key for commuters); or the wider investment needed elsewhere to free up more timetable slots, which is why the forgotten cousin of freight gets pushed even deeper into the night, in turn giving engineering work nowhere to go at all.

Suburban rail is the less exciting cousin of cross country rail. But at present there’s nobody to “mind the gap” between regional cross-country focussed rail strategy , and the bus/tram orientated planning of individual councils. (Incidentally, the next Midland Metro extension, from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, is expected to cost £450m for just 11km of tram. Ouch.)

So given all that, I decided to go down a less glamorous angle than a Birmingham Crossrail, and design a Birmingham  & Black Country Overground. Like the London Overground, I’ve tried to join up what we’ve already got into a more coherent service and make a distinct “line” out of it.

Click to expand. 

With our industrial heritage there are a selection of old alignments to run down, which would bring a suburban service right into the heart of the communities it needs to serve, rather than creating a whole string of “park & rides” on the periphery. Throw in another 24km of completely new line to close up the gaps and I’ve run a complete ring of railway all the way around Birmingham and the Black Country, joining up with HS2 & the airport for good measure – without too much carnage by the way of development to work around/through/over/under.

Click to expand. 

While going around with a big circle on the outside, I found a smaller circle inside the city where the tracks already exist, and by re-creating a number of old stations I managed to get within 800m of two major hospitals. The route also runs right under the Birmingham Arena (formerly the NIA), fixing the stunning late 1980s planning error of building a 16,000 capacity arena right in the heart of a city centre, over the railway line, but without a station. (It does have two big car parks instead: lovely at 10pm when a concert kicks out, gridlocks really nicely.)

From that redraw the local network map and ended up with...

Click to expand. 

Compare this with the current broadly hub-and-spoke network, and suddenly you’ve opened up a lot more local journey possibilities which you’d have otherwise have had to go through New Street to make. (Or, in reality, drive.) Yours for a mere snip at £3bn.

If you want to read more, there are detailed plans and discussion here (signup required).