So far, well, so far

Economics and politics are the governing powers of life today, and that’s why everything is so screwy.

So already under the new coalition government we have had action. Housing minister Grant Shapps has metaphorically put his money where his mouth is and scrapped the need for controversial Home Information Packs. Apparently this has already boosted the housing market with estate agency website RightMove claiming to have seen a 34% increase in houses for sale in the first week after the announcement.

This obviously is good news for the industry because we all know that an increase in property transactions tends to lead to an increase in RMI work.

And then yesterday Shapps outlined his commitment to helping more people become homeowners, claiming at UK home ownership is at its lowest level for years.

The density targets for housebuilders have also been dropped, meaning that developers will no longer have to squeeze a minimum number of houses onto a plot. Housing density wasn’t one of Labour’s better policies as it lead to developments of the wrong sorts of housing.

Now clearly, fewer houses means fewer actual things to sell, but it might mean that they can now build the sorts of houses that people actually want to buy and are willing to pay real money for. You know, with gardens larger than a postage-stamp and garages that you can actually get a modern-sized car into.

Today, Greg Clark, the communities minister is pledge to reclassify gardens, currently in the “brownfield” planning category used for ex-factory and railway land. This has been a bugbear of his for some time; he tried to bring a Private Members Bill in a few years ago to prevent people being able to sell off half their gardens to developers (he’s my MP and I have to say he has a point).

He believes it is “ridiculous” that vital green space is being lost to what he calls garden-grabbing and will argue that taking gardens out of the brownfield category will give council’s greater opportunity to reject unwanted development where local people object. Apparently, the number of homes built on previously residential land, such as gardens, is now one on four, up from one in 10 in 1997.

OK, we still need more homes in this country, but Clark is also talking about a more concerted effort to tackle to 600,000 plus homes currently lying empty and un-used. Getting them back into habitable use would go a long way towards tackling some of our housing problems without paving over every green space going.

I’m aware that I might be coming across as the worst type of NIMBY, but I think what we need to find is a balance between the needs of the building industry, the needs of the growing population and the needs of people to live somewhere that they actually want to and somewhere where there is the infrastructure to support them.

However, with Prime Minister David Cameron warning on Monday that the economic situation is “even worse than we thought” and that dealing with the deficit would affect “our whole way of life”, we’re probably not going to get much in the way of infrastructure spending for a while.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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