Horrified passengers suddenly realize their boat has a leak. They frantically start to paddle it with their hands towards a distant shore. The engine and sail sit ignored and unused. Meanwhile, someone at the stern refuses to raise the anchor.
Theresa May’s announcement of new housing policies today has something of that feel. No-one can doubt her government’s determination to do something. She is bang on target when she says:
“The shortage of housing in this country reinforces inequality. It prevents social mobility and stops people fulfilling their potential. It creates and exacerbates divisions between generations and between those who own property and those who do not.”
Yet it is still official policy, spelled out to the Letwin Review, for the housing shortage to continue to get worse. It is still official policy to force councils to permit more housing in the teeth of fierce opposition, rather than concentrate on ways to get local people clamouring for more homes. And the new policy on housing need has discovered that house prices may be relevant in planning (fancy that!) but then chickened out when it comes to comparing them to construction costs to help measure how much poor planning has damaged our housing supply and our economy – by perhaps 25 per cent of GDP on our estimates, or more than any single event since the Black Death of 1348-49.
Homeowners will finally be encouraged to add floors on the existing footprint, after consistent pressure from, among others, Nick Boles MP, John Penrose MP and our campaign at London YIMBY, but only if there’s already another building of that increased height nearby. What about the thousands of streets where no building has more than two floors? What about the endless expanses of ugly concrete parking places? Can’t we do something better with them?