Last week’s column looked at UKIP’s Nigel Farage’s claim that a new house was built every seven minutes to house immigrants: we decided it was true on one reading of the stats, but the country needs one house every two minutes anyway. And it could equally be claimed that far fewer are needed for immigrants — we reckoned one every 28 minutes, not every seven.
The next obvious question is: if we need all those houses, what are the various parties’ policies for house-building?
According to the Confederation of British Industry, Britain needs to build 240,000 houses a year to keep up with population growth. That’s the figure from a body that represents the building industries, and that’s where the two houses a minute comes from.
Writing in advance of the manifesto launches, this proved a little hard to unearth, until someone kindly sent us a Local Government Information Unit briefing (we won’t say who it was in case we’re not supposed to have it). The unit is a think tank that serves local authorities.
Two facts to bear in mind:
(1) The Local Government Association is calling on whoever forms the next Government to allow councils to build 500,000 new homes. The LGA is the cross-party organisations that represents nearly all local councils in the country.
(2) All the main parties are promising to build lots of houses, probably 200,000 to 300,000. To give this context, building started on 137,010 new homes in 2014, 10% higher than in 2013 and the highest annual total since 2007. Whoever gets into power is going to build more houses than we’ve seen in the last 12 months, and keep building for five years. It’s a lot of houses.
The Conservatives have pledged to build 200,000 discounted starter homes for young first-time buyers (and to continue with Help-to-Buy and Right-to-Buy) over the term of Parliament. They don’t say these are council homes, so we assume it’s down to the private sector.
If they built all 200k starter homes over a five-year Parliament, that’s 40,000 a year. If developers build 25% starter homes on any new development (an optimistic figure), that’s 200,000 homes a year, pretty close to the CBI’s figure. If we assume the CBI has inflated the figures a little for its members’ sake, it’s probably about right.
Labour has committed to build “at least” 200,000 new homes per year by 2020, while giving first-time buyers a priority in certain housing growth areas to 125,000 new homes funded by the new first-time buyer ISA. Again, that’s about what we need.
The Liberal Democrats go better and have promised to increase the rate of house building to 300,000 homes per year, more than the CBI says we need. At least house prices would come down.
The Lib Dems would force councils to allocate land to meet 15 years’ housing need in their local plans, which would be bad news for Cheshire East Council, which is struggling to identify five years’ worth. They would also help first-time buyers onto the housing ladder through a Rent-to-Own scheme.
UKIP is a more vague: it says it will protect the Green Belt by changing planning rules and offering developers funding and tax incentives to build one million new homes on brown field land by 2025.
That’s 500,000 new homes in the next Parliament or 100,000 a year for the next five years. This is much less than everyone else, less than we apparently need and less than the number of houses needed even if Nigel Farage’s figure of 74,500 homes built for migrants each year is knocked off the CBI total: UKIP would build 65,500 fewer homes a year than we actually need.
We think Mr Farage is being deliberately vague. He hopes to wield the balance of power in the next Government so most of his policies don’t matter — he’ll agree to support anything as long as the Government takes us out of Europe.
We’ve seen the Green Party mocked for its pledge — to build 500,000 new council homes by 2020 — but as we said above, this is actually the figure requested by the LGA, “the national voice of local government” as its website claims. The Greens also want a “living rent” and rent increases capped to inflation. They would abolish both Right-to-Buy and the “under-occupation’ deduction from housing benefit.
We’re not making any conclusions about this: the facts are that the three main parties are promising enough houses to fill the housing need, the Greens are backing the Local Government Association and UKIP wants to build far fewer houses than we need.