When think tank Policy Exchange published its Cities Unlimited report last year, advocating abandoning regeneration in much of the north, there was uproar. Even David Cameron who had previously been a committed Policy Exchange fan was forced to call it “barmy” “Insane and complete rubbish” John Prescott described it as “the most insulting and ignorant policy I've ever heard”.
So if that idea was so awful, what exactly is the difference with this? Today 10 Downing Street published it’s response to the Inside Housing Empty Promise campaign petition
In response to the general point that the Prime Minister should help reduce the number of empty homes, the government say they agree, but then back-pedal a bit by saying
“Areas with high concentrations of empty homes often do not correspond with areas of high housing need.”
On the need for targeting investment at the problem, the government say they are doing it already but then say:
“this type of approach is not always appropriate as a way of dealing with long-term empty properties in need of repair. Very often it is more expensive to refurbish homes to the standard we expect than to build them from scratch. Homes also have to be of the right type and size and in the right place. The empty homes figures assume that the empty homes are where the need lies, which is not necessarily the case.”
So what should we make of this as a statement of government policy? A summary might be empty homes are only worth reusing if they’re cheaper to refurbish than building new homes, and only worth doing if they’re somewhere with established housing demand.
Not much ambition to regenerate our inner cities in that , not much ambition to help resolve the blight of empty homes in people’s neighbourhoods either, and no apparent regard for the environmental consequences. If Cities Unlimited was rubbish, so I’m afraid, is this.