Dear prime minister, today is a busy day but I am sure catching up on Property Week is at the top of your in-tray.
At the very least, you will be expecting your housing minister to be reading the industry bible - ready for the rocky years that may lie ahead.
Whatever happens, though, Britain’s built environment and specifically our housing crisis need to be addressed, so here’s my 10-point plan to help you on your way:
- Help to Buy should be here to stay. Yes, it has its critics, but it has helped thousands to get on the housing ladder outside London and has given assistance to people who would never otherwise have owned a home. What can be wrong with that?
- We need a mixed-tenure agenda for the next five years. During the election campaign, the case was made for both home ownership and renting but in truth what we need is a balanced mix.
- So much attention is paid to new homes that we forget to pay attention to the 27 million homes that already exist. If millions of these fall into disrepair, we go backwards in housing supply even if we do build new homes.
- Let’s build the right homes in the right places at the right times. Yes, there is a national shortage, but there isn’t a shortage everywhere. With new entrants to the housebuilding market, registered providers and councils all being encouraged to build, we need to somehow organise supply.
- We need a co-ordinated and thought-through energy policy. During the election campaign, we heard about price caps and other ways to help the consumer, but let’s ensure that business and consumer needs are properly balanced.
- We urgently need investment in infrastructure in the north. It takes an hour and 50 minutes to travel by train the 174 miles between York and London. But the train for the 58 miles between York and Manchester takes an hour and 45 minutes. How can that be right?
- We need clarity on apprenticeships in the building trade. At Keepmoat Regeneration, 0.5% of our salary bill goes to fund new apprenticeships, which we see as a good cause. But we also have to pay a Construction Industry Training Board levy, causing confusion over what we are funding.
- We need certainty on Brexit. Already we have seen migration from Europe falling and with 2.3 million EU citizens working in the UK, we need to be aware of the implications for the construction industry if these numbers fall sharply.
- The unaffordability of living in London needs to be addressed urgently. There is a healthy supply of social housing in London and the prime end of the capital’s market is if anything oversupplied. But the needs of ordinary working Londoners in middle-income jobs must be tackled quickly.
- And finally we need to ask ourselves: are we creating the digital cities of the future? We can do much more, with smart cities and smart homes having the potential to dramatically boost the public purse. For example, if our council tax, doctors’ appointments, rubbish collection, heating and lighting were all organised to avoid waste, we could make huge and valuable gains. Can transport networks be better aligned with individual needs? How will cities adapt as cars disappear?
Brexit and a slowing economy are no doubt your priorities, prime minister. But please remember the crucial role the built environment can help in delivering your priorities.
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