Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Empty Homes and Manifestos

In the midst of manifesto week it might be good to look at what the main parties standing in the general election have said so far about empty homes.

Labour: no specific policy commitments

Conservatives: nothing in the manifesto, but policy on empty homes set out in 2009 housing green paper and 2009 empty property policy paper

Liberal Democrats: Costed manifesto commitment to bring 250,000 empty homes into use through grants and loans

Green Party: manifesto to be published tomorrow, but the party have already said that it will commit to halve the number of empty homes.

UKIP: Policy commitment to give greater compulsory purchase powers to local authorities to tackle empty homes

Plaid Cymru: Stated commitment to reducing empty home numbers and to reduce VAT to 5% on home refurbishment

SNP: no specific policy commitments

It’s good, in a curates egg sort of way, but I would of course, like to have seen more. This time next month at least one, and possibly more, of these parties will form the UK government and will be responsible for our county’s housing policy. Whoever that is will be faced with ensuring that the people of this country have somewhere decent to call home. For many years now, we have comforted ourselves that the house building industry will dutifully churn out new homes to match our demand for housing. All government had to do was fix the rules to make sure that the builders built a proportion that people on low incomes could afford.

But as with so many things the last couple of years have proved that systems that rely on perpetual growth don’t work when the economy turns down. What worked last decade probably won’t work in this one, that’s why we need new ideas and new ways to provide homes. Ideas like making the best use of the housing stock we have got, giving people the metaphorical and literal tools to create homes for themselves, creating new tenures of housing enabling people to rent and own homes in more flexible ways. The ideas are out there and have been adopted by many political parties. The next four weeks will see whether we will get a government with the imagination to introduce them.

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