Building up hope?

The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.

Britain was once described as a ‘nation of shopkeepers’. Now that nice Shadow Housing Minister Grant Shapps, wants to turn it into a nation of housebuilders.

He told the Conservative Party Conference yesterday that, if it won the next General Election, the party would help rural villages to expand by 10 per cent over a 10-year period. Well, I can certainly see all the NIMBYs rushing to embrace that particular cause.

It’s no good building more homes if there isn’t the infrastructure to support them. OK, Shapps may have also said that a Conservative government would match pound for pound any increase in council tax that an area gets from development over a six year period.

To be spent on what, exactly? He doesn’t say.

In rural areas the number of shops, post offices, schools, bus routes, even – can you believe it – pubs that have closed has reached unprecedented levels in recent years.

We are desperately short of housing in the this country, even more so now that housebuilding is at such dismally low levels. Yes, some sites may have been ‘un-mothballed’ for want of a better word, but even before the recession we were woefully short of housing targets and aims.

So plans to help areas build more homes are good plans. But as well as homes, people need things to do, shops to buy things in, schools to educate their children, transport to take them places. And preferably, they need those things locally, or they will end up being ever more dependent on the car.

The trouble is, if you take nice, quiet rural village areas, so beloved of middle-class Tory voters and add lots of houses and lots of infrastructure, you end up with much bigger villages. Or towns as some people call them. Which not everyone likes.

Still, it’s nice to hear them talking about promoting building. Although it’s easy to say the right things when you are in opposition.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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