It’s a bit of an own goal, all this prevarication around the date of publication of the Housing White Paper. Yesterday the BBC had it as “expected next week” but latest reports from Whitehall now seem to tip February 9; wise folk say it will now get linked with the Budget, but frankly it is anyone’s guess. Mrs May might have a lot on her mind right now, but not nearly enough to stop her team from micro-managing the content of this document, over the heads of CLG ministers and policy wonks, given its sensitivities to the Tory backwoods. And yet again a grown up policy is being beleaguered by reactionary forces.
This perpetual delay has given rise to much ribald comment. There are hilarious tales out there concerning groups of industry types running sweepstakes on the expected date. And it means that expectations in regard to its content are being ratcheted ever upwards, so that when there is no silver bullet, yet again, there will be that much further to fall…
Most depressing and serious however, is that the dispiriting forces of nimbyism throughout the land are mobilising once again. And the longer the publication drifts, the more rabid they become. You can just see the National Trust limbering up. And the Daily Telegraph is surely getting ready to reprise it’s wholly irresponsible “Hands off Our Land” nonsense (see blog 30 September 2011), yet again denying the opportunity to have a reasoned and well informed debate about a crucial subject, critical to the well-being of our economy and way of life. Folks continue to be frothy in their knee-jerk protection of the green belt, refusing to acknowledge that this ancient (1930s) policy, while admirable in its day, is something of a blunt instrument, seeking to protect rather indiscriminately, much of the green belt being unattractive scrub land.
I concede that our industry may not always be the best behaved going, but surely our country deserves a more nuanced and sophisticated approach to building homes for our children. I am speaking at an event for the London Stansted Cambridge corridor next week and I for one will be arguing for the loss of green belt in specific locations where it makes sense. We need some brave politics right now, or we will never crack the housing crisis.
But I remain optimistic about the Housing White Paper. Partly because I know about some of the positive responses that are being formulated out there at the chalk face in preparation, and partly because of hints from those in the know. I am hopeful of a paper that doesn’t tinker around the edges, but seeks to put in place serious, lasting and long-term reforms that will boost housing supply immediately and for many years to come. Provided the nimby forces don’t completely prevail, I think you will see a policy that doesn’t just cut red tape, but attempts to inculcate a new mind-set. And I expect to see pro-growth local authorities put front and centre to the new push for housing.
Council leaders need to step up to be the standard bearers in all this. And I predict you will hear a lot more about this at MIPIM this year, where you will see a wholly enhanced presence from Her Majesty’s Government.