Sunday, 20 November 2011

Focus should be on home quality as well as quantity

Policy Exchange's Alex Morton rejects claims that building on green belt will lead to undesirable effects such as urban sprawl

Cameron seems to care about happiness, so he should look at the quality of the homes being built rather than just the quality. The type of home you live in - whether it is big enough for a family, whether it has a garden, whether it has green space nearby, whether it is close to a good school, whether it has many social problems - affects happiness more than anything else.

The Royal Institute of British Architects in its excellent 50 page report Case for Space: The size of England's homes. RIBA. Sep 2011 says that we have the smallest, most expensive houses in Europe.  A lot of people aren't satisfied.

Housing, in my opinion, was Labour's biggest failure.  What needs to be done?  Unaffordable housing by Policy Exchange has some great recommendations:  Unaffordable Housing: Fables and Myths. Policy Exchange. Hartwich and Evans. 2005.
Also see: Making Housing Affordable: A new vision for housing policy. Policy Exchange. Alex Morton. August 2010.
In regards to flats and attached houses - we must improve sound proofing.  Ideally people want detached homes with gardens.  We should make sure these are the homes that are being built.  If you must build flats and attached homes then they should be built to the highest standards possible - not just high standards but the highest standards possible.  My specific concern is with noisy neighbours.  The current building standards and regulations aren't strict enough.  Andrew Stunell MP doesn't mention anything about sound proofing in flats and attached houses in his December 2010 statement here:
Is it illiberal to impose the strictest standards possible?  No - not if we are looking at it from the point of view of the ordinary individual; the ordinary working class family. If all or most the houses or flats they look at are built to a low standard, they do not have a choice.  If we like liberalism because it gives us choice to choose the option for us that will make us most happy, then the strictest standards in sound proofing and in other areas such as insulation are a good thing.
If many generations are going to spend the whole of their lives in the same building, you may as well do it to as high a standard as possible.
Noisy neighbours cause a lot of damage to society. See: -Soundproofing Walls - Guaranteed to Work! Guaranteed for Life! and Forum
Noise nuisance results in a lot of stress and lead to costs in terms of mental health for the NHS; it also costs the economy because it leads to people not going into work because of stress.  This stress can also lead to domestic violence, rape, and unhappy children, which then costs police and the NHS money.  The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health reports on one legal case:
The President of CIEH, Stephen Battersby, also remarks how weak housing regulations are detrimental to health: Better housing would ease the strain on the NHS.  Stephen Battersby.  Guardian

What about the government's recently announced plans?  They want to devote government-owned land towards housebuilding.
Cameron plan to boost housebuilding. Financial Times. Nov 18 2011.
Housing plans include up to 450,000 new homes by 2015. Guardian. 18 Nov, 2011. Patrick Wintour.
Who will build them? Inside Housing. 18th Nov 2011.

As long as it isn't a case of packing as many houses in as possible.  That is exactly what we don't want.  Remember - actual people have to live there. We should use the recommendations in RIBA's report.  There should be some rules as to what type of houses are going to be built.

One thing that would make sorting the housing problem out easier for Mr Cameron, as the Guardian article suggests, is to get a complete register of who owns what land in Britain.  Kevin Cahill, author of Who Owns Britain, pointed this out in a recent new Statesman article: The great property swindle. Kevin Cahill. New Statesman.11 March 2011.  If you could have a top down view map of the UK that graphically illustrated the housing situation and who owns what, it would be easier for the government to make sure everything is OK.

He should also look to see how you can get more self-builds.  This is bound to improve standards of housing as people are going to live there and so will put more care into it.  Housing companies are just in it for profit. Grant Shapps: Government backs self-builders. 3 May 2011.

Making owners of second homes pay full council tax is right.  Maybe he should go further.  Doubling it for second and multiple homes would make the property market less competitive and discourage people from using houses as an investment; this would bring property prices down to affordable levels so that young people could afford them.  Which is surely the aim.
I would use the extra money to pay off the national debt rather than frittering away a few hundred million here and there; his long term aim should be to increase the income tax threshold.
Also - what about a land tax?  Just as people pay council tax ever year, why don't huge land owners have to pay?  They see their land going up in value every year and they haven't done anything to deserve that windfall. How is it fair that due to our feudal history certain families get all this land and ordinary citizens in 2011 do not?  They should have to contribute.  A transaction tax won't do it because they won't sell.  It must be a yearly thing like council tax.  What about farmers?  Maybe you could make an exception for farmers.

It seems to me Cameron is moving away from discussing building on green field land. This is a bad thing.  See: Is the Green belt sacred? Oliver Marc, 2008 and Housing sense in short supply, 21 Sep 2011. Oliver Marc
"A total of 90.1 per cent of the English surface area is classified as green space or water. Of the remaining tenth of England, the largest chunk (4.3 per cent) is neither buildings nor roads – but domestic gardens."
Building on brownfield land is going to make the place where people live more congested and less pleasant.  I would rather brownfield land (previously developed sites) be converted into green space.  He should ignore the National Trust and Daily Telegraph.  They are not going to vote anyone other than Tory at the next election.  Also as a Prime Minister, you should care more about what is right for the country than what is popular.  Often the two don't go hand in hand.  Often you need to stand up to these people and make your case if you think what you are doing is right.  At least they will respect you then and may even come round to your way of thinking.  Ignoring them or caving in to them bit by bit is pathetic.

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