Our country is at a crossroads. The government’s long term economic plan for financial stability and prosperity could be thwarted from the Left by an irrational but populist party; and from the Right by a party whose success is drawn not from solid policy but by successful communication with the electorate. It’s not just the economy though. Increasingly coming to the forefront of people’s minds is the environment and the housing crisis.
When talking about the environment the narrative is no longer focused simply on whether climate change is ‘real’ or not. There is now a pressing need for policy makers to be aware that our need for switching to renewables is not only for climate reasons, but to maintain our energy sustainably and prevent supply pull inflation from the worlds diminishing resources. On top of this, the shortage of housing has meant the glare of those seeking to stem this deficiency has become fixated upon the greenbelt. The greenbelt, the area around urban areas to prevent sprawl and made up of over 1.5 million hectares of land in the UK, has always been under pressure from developers who know they can make a killing from building there; but now, as the need for house building bulges and the current housing stuck strains under demand, there are increased calls from think tanks, politicians and business alike to enact what would be an irreversible policy of easing planning restrictions on the greenbelt and concreting over it.
Fortunately, the Conservative led government have emphasised how important protecting the greenbelt is to them by announcing over 99% of house-building will be on existing brownfield sites whilst, crucially, beginning to lay out how to solve the house building shortages – which there is no denying exists. Of course, saying one thing and doing another are two very different concepts; the Conservatives have to lay out their green friendly agenda and not in the xenophobic manner within UKIP?s manifesto nor forgetting to accentuate Labour’s plans for land grabs that will see our countryside bulldozed.
To solve the housing crisis in an environmentally friendly fashion, the Conservatives can implement a number of their proposals already in the pipeline that have proved popular amongst voters. To begin with, the party should ramp up the pressure on prohibiting homeowners’ second, long-term empty homes. This is a process the Conservatives began in the 2014 Budget when George Osborne announced a reduction in the starting value for a tax on homes owned through a company from £2mn to £500,000. By addressing the scandal of empty homes in this country, the government is on its way to freeing 300,000 properties for families.
On top of this, the Conservatives must explain how they are to incentivise house building on brownfield sites. According to the Campaign to Protect Rural England there are enough brownfield sites to allow over 1.5 million homes to be built on and this space is increasing as business continues to moves away from large units and industrial parks to services, offices and home business. Nevertheless, developers simply do not want to build on brownfield sites when the cost of decontamination, removal of eyesores and general work to make the site livable and buildable is so expensive in comparison to green land. But there are ways to make it just as profitable.
The central government should take control of the £1bn plus New Homes Bonus Scheme, which currently involves funds transferred to often-wasteful local councils who build on green space, and instead spend it on implementing the infrastructure and environment to allow profitable building on brownfield sites. This would allow us to address the housing shortage and protect our valuable greenbelt and countryside.
The Conservatives are the party of home ownership and they continue to show they are the party of the environment. There are sure to be hiccups and issues needing to be addressed along what will be a complicated journey to restore stability in the housing market; but by continuing the work the Conservatives have begun and making some further reforms along the way, there is a real future for affordable and sustainable housing to co-exist in harmony with our blossoming countryside.