Chancellor Philip Hammond might have just taken the first steps to tackle the housing crisis

It's a start. Image: Getty.

Okay, so this is weird. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is making an announcement about housing, and I think it might be... good? Not really good. Definitely not transformative. But more good than bad, and if I'm honest that's kind of freaking me out.

It probably isn't going to be the aspect of Philip Hammond's speech that everybody talks about today. Everyone's going to focus on a) the fact he seems pretty comfortable with the idea of Britain leaving the EU's single market (oh, god), or 2) the way he's just abandoned austerity in an attempt to stop the economy tanking when he fulfils the goals set out in (a).

But he's also said some stuff about housebuilding. Which, as it turns out, he's in favour of.

Firstly, Hammond promised to borrow (yes, borrow) £2bn for an "Accelerated Construction" scheme. This will be used to develop publicly-owned brownfield land (e.g. stuff the state owns which already has stuff on it) which can be brought to market quickly.

How many nhomes will that pay for? "Up to 15,000" in this parliament. There's around three and a half years of that parliament left, so it works out to about another 4,300 extra homes a year, and it's not clear it's repeatable. We need to increase housebuilding by upwards of 100,000 a year, so this isn’t very much – but every little helps.

The other part of Hammond's announcement is more promising. The £3bn Home Building Fund will provide loans for smaller building firms to get building. It's not all new money – nearly two-thirds of it will come from combining several existing funding streams – but if it works it should get another 25,500 new homes built this parliament.

This figure is also, you'll note, small. So why do I think this is more promising? Because it's focused on small builders.

One of the reasons we aren't building more houses in Britain is because we've relied on the big housebuilders to raise their output. And they don't want to: it’s more profitable for them to produce fewer homes at high prices, than it would be to produce more homes and risk crashing the market.

Resuscitating smaller building firms – a sector that was hit hard by the 2008 financial crash – should make it possible to raise output in a sustainable way. It's not an instant fix. But it's a step in the right direction.

Whether this will work or not is a different question, of course: apart from anything else there are still questions over whether there's enough brownfield land to meet our housing need. But it already looks like Hammond is more serious about fixing the housing crisis than George Osborne ever was.

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

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Mayor Marvin Rees' hope for Bristol: A more equitable city that can 'live with difference'

“I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city," Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees says. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

When the statue of 18th century slave trader Edward Colston was torn from its plinth and dumped in Bristol’s harbour during the city’s Black Lives Matter protests on 7 June, mayor Marvin Rees was thrust into the spotlight. 

Refraining from direct support of the statue’s removal, the city’s first black mayor shared a different perspective on what UK home secretary Priti Patel called “sheer vandalism”:

“It is important to listen to those who found the statue to represent an affront to humanity,” he said in a statement at the time. “I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city and wherever we see it.”

48 year-old Rees, who grew up in the city, has since expanded on his approach to the issue in an interview with CityMetric, saying “wherever you stand on that spectrum, the city needs to be a home for all of those people with all of those perspectives, even if you disagree with them.”

“We need to have the ability to live with difference, and that is the ethnic difference, racial difference, gender difference, but also different political perspectives,” he added. “I have been making that point repeatedly – and I hope that by making it, it becomes real.” 

What making that point means, in practice, for Rees is perhaps best illustrated by his approach to city governance.

Weeks after the toppling of Colston’s statue, a new installation was erected at the same spot featuring Jen Reid, a protester of Black Lives Matter. However, the installation was removed, as “it was the work and decision of a London-based artist, and it was not requested and permission was not given for it to be installed”, Rees said in a statement.

Bristol may appear a prosperous city, logging the highest employment rate among the UK’s “core cities” in the second quarter of 2019. But it is still home to many areas that suffer from social and economic problems: over 70,000 people, about 15 percent of Bristol’s population, live in what are considered the top 10 percent most disadvantaged areas in England. 

In an attempt to combat this inequality, Rees has been involved in a number of projects. He has established Bristol Works, where more than 3,000 young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are given work experience opportunities. And is now setting up a commission on social mobility. “Launching a Bristol commission on social mobility is not only about social justice; it [should not be] possible for a modern city to leave millions of pounds worth of talent on the shelf, just because the talent was born into poverty,” he says.

The mayor is also a strong supporter of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), explaining that SDGs offer a way to talk about sustainability within a framework of many issues, ranging from climate change and biodiversity to women’s issues, domestic violence, poverty and hunger.

“What we want to achieve as a city cannot be done as a city working alone,” he insists. “We don’t want to benefit only people inside Bristol, we want to benefit the planet, and the SDGs offer a framework for a global conversation,” suggesting that a vehicle should be launched that allows cities to work together, ideally with organisations such as the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund involved. 

Greater collaboration between cities would be “beneficial in terms of economies of scale,” he argues, “as cities could get more competitive prices when buying materials for building houses or ordering buses, rather than each city acquiring a few of them at a higher price.”

In an attempt to focus on the long term, Rees launched One City Plan in January 2019, setting out a number of goals for Bristol to achieve by 2050.

Investing in green infrastructure to meet 2030 carbon emission targets spelled out in the SDGs is a key area here, with the mayor noting that transport, mass transit and energy are important sectors looking for further investment and government funding: “The sooner we meet our targets, the sooner we will benefit from them, and invest in sectors that will provide people with jobs.”

Jobs, especially following the outbreak of Covid-19, are of paramount importance to Rees. Bristol’s council wants to ensure that any government money given to the city will be quickly passed on to businesses to help prevent redundancies, he says, though given that mass job losses seem inevitable, reskilling options are also being looked into, such as through a zero-carbon smart energy project called City Leap.

Another important area for investment in Bristol is affordable housing, with 9,000 homes already built under Rees’s term of office. “People could build a base for life with affordable housing, [and this would mean] their mental health would be better because they have a safe place,” he explains. “Children in families that have a home that is affordable are more likely to able to eat and to heat, [and they are more likely to enjoy a] better education.”

Taken in the round, Rees’s agenda for Bristol is its own blueprint for shaping history. The Colston statue now lies in safe storage, with a local museum likely to play host to the controversial monument. But the Black Lives Matters protestors were fighting for a fairer, more equal future, and it is here where Rees is determined to deliver.

Sofia Karadima is a senior editor at NS Media Group.