A Tory housing minister just said that it’s okay for you to spend half your salary on housing

Conservative housing minister Luke Hall. Image: National Housing Hustings.

Last night, the lecture theatre at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) played host to the housing hustings, organised by Shelter, the National Housing Federation and a coalition of other organisations interested in this particular bit of public policy.

The questions from an audience of policy wonks and people who’d been at the sharp end of this particular crisis were passionate and informed. The answers from the panel were generally thoughtful but not terribly enlightening. Two things, however, stood out.

One was the answer given by Conservative Luke Hall, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Local Government & Homelessness, in response to a question about how much of your salary it was acceptable to spend on housing. Most of the panel agreed with, well, pretty much all housing experts that a third of your salary was the limit, and that anything more than that could not be classed as affordable.

Hall said 50 per cent. A Tory housing minister thinks that, if literally half of your income is being swallowed by your rent, then that’s just fine and affordable. Okay.

This was the only comment of the night to be greeted by boos from the audience. From somewhere behind me I heard the words “Maybe on an MP’s salary”. I’m not actually sure that’s terribly fair – looking at his CV, Hall joined supermarket chain Lidl at 18; he’s hardly Jacob Rees-Mogg – but nonetheless you wouldn’t call this comment not out of touch with the reality of the housing crisis, would you.

The other thing that leapt out at me was that the Tories sent Hall at all. Some of the other parties sent reasonably heavy hitters. Sian Berry is co-leader of the Greens; John Healey Labour’s shadow housing secretary and also a former housing minister (and not, as I’d previously written, a former secretary of state; my bad). Tom Brake, admittedly, is neither household name, nor the LibDem who shadows the housing brief – that’s Tim Farron.

The Tories, though, sent as their representative to the election campaign’s big housing debate their third ranked housing minister – a man who, at 33 years old, found himself answering for policy decisions taken when he was in his early 20s and working for a supermarket. Housing minister Esther McVey was mysteriously unavailable.

The actual housing secretary Robert Jenrick tweeted that he was instead speaking at the Jewish News hustings, for which Labour had failed to put up a speaker – but while this is a terrible indictment of Labour’s inability to build bridges with the Jewish community, it still looks suspiciously like the Tories aren’t taking the housing crisis massively seriously.

Still. If we didn’t know that before, we would by now, because this morning Sajid Javid went on Sky News and said, with a straight face, that the last Labour government, which left office nine and a half years ago, was responsible for the enormous rise in homelessness. The upsettingly visible rise in rough sleeping that has happened since the Conservative party came to power, unseen in Britain since the last time the Conservative party were in power, is apparently nothing whatsoever to do with them.

I think you ought to know I’m feeling very depressed.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.


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).