“At the centre of the last budget was a pledge to build 300,000 UK houses a year to address the ‘housing crisis’.
We were taken back to the days when a post-war Conservative Government, under Churchill, was elected with this level of ambition, and more than succeeded.
Or to the interwar National Government when, under the much-maligned Neville Chamberlain, when there was a similar level of ambition and achievement in the aftermath of, and as an antidote to, the Great Crash.
More recently, in 1969, when I was embarking on a political career as a councillor in Glasgow, a record level of 378,000 homes were built. Large scale house building was then the template of successful local government.
Today, there is a significantly larger number of people per home available.
Yet in the 2010 post-crisis nadir only 133,000 homes were built during the year. And even as the economy comes out the other side, there were just 178,360 in 2016/17.
Brexit now threatens development rates again. Already two-thirds of small and medium sized construction firms are struggling to hire bricklayers and carpenters, 10% more than was the case even three months ago. There is a worsening crisis in construction recruitment which threatens any political aspiration to build more homes.
An estimated 240,000 to 300,000 units per year are needed to keep up with the rate of household formation but even that figure excludes a lot of hidden demand – in the form of young people living with their parents, for example.
This historic failure of governments – of all stripes – to stimulate housing supply at anything like the levels needed to meet demand is at the root of a great deal of social, and particularly inter-generational, injustice in the country today.
So while some of the solutions are necessarily technical, we should keep in mind throughout the end game. An affordable, secure home for all – and in particular for young people, to whom it is presently out of reach.
I want to set out how we could return to the levels of house building last seen two or three generations ago; and how a Lib Dem, mixed-economy approach, of public and private sector, can deliver it.”
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