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Warm words and cold comfort on the menu for Budget Day

Last weekend, Levelling Up and Housing Secretary, Michael Gove wrote in the Sunday Times that the nation’s housing crisis was so bad for today’s young adults, it was in danger of becoming a threat to democracy.

A slightly confusing statement coming from a senior Conservative MP who first became a Cabinet Member in 2010 and has held a number of rarified posts ever since.

Fourteen years on from when Mr Gove first became Education Secretary, we have seen 16 housing ministers come and go – yes, SIXTEEN! Perhaps that is part of the reason why Housing has floated to the top of the political agenda.

The situation for some is so bad, that what I really want to see as the country’s next major political event is a General Election – as quickly as possible. Sadly, what I know I’m going to get is a Spring Budget on March 6th when Jeremy Hunt will tell us all that the nation is economically on the mend. He’ll throw a few crumbs of comfort in the form of meagre tax cuts and threaten disastrous consequences if we consider - even for a moment – giving the other side a go.

So given these constraints of real politique, what would I like to see from our Chancellor?

Abolished altogether

Well the first thing – and possibly the most important – is beyond his brief. I want to see an end to the internal psycho-drama that has haunted the governing party for last few years. If someone could put a stop to that, perhaps they could get on with governing and those actually working in the economy could get on with building businesses. To do that, we need stability and predictability.

I’d like to see practical fiscal measures to incentivise landlords. Why are they taxed so unfairly? We need to not only keep the ones we have, but also boost their number significantly. At the very least, they should be able to claim full tax relief on all of their mortgage payments and maintenance/repair costs.

As far as tenure reform goes, there is a Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill going through Parliament but it doesn’t go anywhere near far enough. I’d like to see leasehold abolished altogether – all properties should be freehold or share of freehold and Jeremy Hunt should make money available to enable the measure.

Stamp Duty Land Tax has become an over-complicated burden to the house-buying process. Pre-2015 it was so much more straightforward – could we not return to those simpler days which have become rose-tinted in the memory? The only exceptions should be for second homes and for overseas investors.

To put it in a nutshell there simply aren’t enough houses to go around. And there won’t be until our planning laws are radically reformed. Yes – it’s politically difficult but aren’t they the sort of problems that our politicians are meant to solve?

Imagine the communities

And while they’re at it, they could make it a requirement that energy saving measures are made mandatory for new developments. Every new home should have solar panels as tiles or on a flat roof, they should be adequately insulated and heat pumps should be installed.

And we should begin to think of developments in terms of building communities. Are there sufficient recreational spaces, parks, cycle ways, trees and plants?

And what about our over-stretched public services? Are there sufficient GP surgeries, dental practices, schools and public transport links? When we think about building homes we have to imagine the communities of tomorrow.

But I fear there will be little of this when the Chancellor gets up to outline his short -term temptations in a barely-disguised bid to win, or at least limit the damage at, the next election.

What I want is a vision for people and places and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

What we need is a feast of ideas, what I fear we’ll get is a canapé – not much use to a starving generation.


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