This morning Conservative journalists Tim Montgomerie and Stephan Shakespeare launched The Good Right, a sort of website think tank thingamy intended to reboot the notion of compassionate conservativism in Britain. To give a sense of what that means in practice, the site includes a draft manifesto of 12 possible policies. What do you think they placed in the top slot?
MORE HOUSEBUILDING, MORE HOME OWNERSHIP
A Harold Macmillan-sized, state-supported housebuilding programme to cut the future cost of housing benefits and to rebuild the idea of a property owning democracy again
See that? Not just housebuilding, but public housebuilding. Regular readers may also recall the article by Conservative councillor Richard Holloway last week, calling for a return to council house building. When Tories start calling for the state to start building homes, you know that the ground is starting to shift.
It needs to shift quite a long way before anything starts to change, however. Most analysts reckon the UK needs to build around 250,000 homes a year to keep pace with demand. In 2013, the number of houses completed was just shy of 110,000; the number started was 123,000.
In other words, however you look at it, in 2013, the UK was building less than half the homes that it needs.
Things actually get slightly worse when you look specifically at affordable housing. This is a faintly Orwellian term meaning "subsidised", rather than actually affordable; but it acts as a good proxy for the rate at which the British state itself is currently building homes
According to figures compiled by the National Housing Federation, England needs to build roughly 78,500 affordable homes a year to keep up with demand. In the year to 30 September 2014, it built only 24,110. That, for those keeping score, is just shy of 31 per cent of the total need.
Demand for such homes, though, is not spread evenly across the country. You won't be surprised to learn that a third of it is in London alone:
Take the two regions that provide the capital’s hinterland, too (the various shades of blue on this chart), and it's nearly 60 per cent.
London is also leading the field when it comes to the numbers actually getting built. (We've coloured this chart green, as if to say "Go housing, woo!".)
That’s not much of a surprise, since so much of the demand is in that part of the country. When you look at the affordable homes built as a share of the number needed, however, London's position looks rather less flattering.
On this chart, the total length of the bar is how many affordable homes a region needs to build each year; the green section is how many it actually managed to build.
Looked at proportionally, and only one region is actually performing worse: Yorkshire is building just 13 per cent of the affordable homes it needs, so well done there.
Just one of the nine regions of England is building more than half of the affordable homes that it needs. Only three are building more than a third. The debate may be moving – as of yet, however, the JCBs aren't.
The government will publish figures covering the whole of 2014 later this week. Let’s hope they bring good news.