We didn’t need housing minister Caroline Flint’s transparent document wallet to tell us the housing market is in crisis. Or that the construction industry is running for cover, taking with it the government’s plans to build 3 million new homes by 2020.
Prime minister Gordon Brown is sailing towards the iceberg, but he can still turn the ship around. Seriously addressing the housing crisis is a good place to start. To do so he needs to stop tinkering with the problem. Allowing housing associations to buy up a few thousand empty homes and building eco-towns are policy gimmicks. The answer is a new generation of council housing, built by local authorities, on publicly owned land.
For too long council housing has been fighting a rearguard action. But it’s time to move the issue on to the front foot. For 100 years, council housing has provided affordable and democratically controlled homes to millions of people – a unique social policy and something that Britain can really be proud of. If you’re over the age of 40, chances are you or someone in your family benefited from council housing: if you’re under 40, chances are you or someone you know needs it now.
The fundamental error in New Labour’s housing policy is its reliance on the private sector and its obsession with homeownership. The new economic climate illustrates just how misguided this is.
Arguing for a return to council housing means learning the lessons of the past. Poor management and design have damaged its reputation. Even so, 3 million people still live in council housing and the length of the waiting list proves that many more want to. This is not a policy that needs a focus group.
Glyn Robbins is acting head of sustainability at Team, but writes here in a personal capacity