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Bold thinking required for housing

Ahead of this week’s general election, Conservative Shadow housing minister Grant Shapps outlines his vision for the sector should the Tories gain power.

The Conservative Party has long demonstrated a willingness to grasp bold and innovative new ideas and our housing and planning proposals have been a prime example. For more than three years we have been developing policies that will reverse Labour’s failed system, empower communities and succeed in building the future the country needs.
 
Take our house-building policies. Over the last few months, putting power back into the hands of local people has been attacked by Labour, yet the reality is that this Government has been responsible for creating a generation of NIMBYs through its own use of arbitrary, top-down housing targets and headline-grabbing announcements. Rather than actually building more homes their approach has led to fear amongst communities who worry that they will have little or no control over the way in which their own neighbourhoods develop. This in turn has created a backlash which has actually made development harder, rather than easier.
 
So under our radical plans the national targets will be scrapped but in their place we will provide large financial incentives for communities to welcome and drive development – we will match fund the council tax on each new home for a period of six years. And because a larger population needs employment we will also encourage business to flourish locally with a new incentive scheme for business rates to be kept locally, again over a six year period.
 
That’s a real sea change in approach, but we passionately believe that rather than having local people fight development our proposals will see them fighting for growth in their areas, in return for the practical benefits that progress can bring.
 
Our Planning Green Paper has taken this approach further by detailing the ways that our planning system will be more accountable, more efficient and more capable of delivering new homes. We’ve termed this ’Open Source Planning’ and like our housing policy it is progressive. We believe that our approach will help inspire communities across the country to take control of their own destinies and facilitate more home building but in a way which fits with local objectives.
 
Passing power back to communities doesn’t just have to be about building homes though. In housing there are dozens of areas where giving people responsibility and opportunity – with a little nudge here and there – can really change lives and change society’s approach to everything from the schools children attend to creating better places to live.
 
Our Green Deal, for instance, will provide all families with the opportunity to improve their homes without any upfront cost.  Energy efficiency is a triple win for the whole country; it saves money, it saves energy and its saves our environment, not to mention tackling fuel poverty.
 
We have pledged to abolish HIPs, removing an unnecessary burden from home owners and we have also promised that we will permenantly get rid of stamp duty for properties on under £250,000 both of which will making owning your own home easier.
 
In social housing the Labour Government has been missing the point for years. Their failure to build enough social housing (a lot fewer units per year than under either John Major or Margaret Thatcher) is well documented and the social housing waiting list has almost doubled to 1.8million families. But they’ve also presided over a complete seizure in social housing mobility, flattened the Right-To-Buy discount and created a confusing array of shared ownership schemes, leaving affordable housing tenants with little or no control over their own futures.
 
Once again it’s our radical policies which are leading the way. For a start we’re going to up the incentive for local authorities who facilitate the building of more affordable housing giving them 125 per cent of their council tax matched pound for pound as opposed to 100 per cent for market homes. But we’re also listening to the tenants themselves.
 
We’re encouraging responsibility and offering opportunity through our Foot on the Ladder scheme to give all good social tenants a 10 per cent equity stake in their home after 5 years, to be “cashed in” when they leave the sector and free up their home for another family.
 
We’re promoting enterprise by ensuring that all social tenants will be able to start a business in their home.
 
And of course, because social housing tenants are generally unable to move at the moment, we will facilitate a nationwide affordable house-swap programme (through an open data format allowing information to be exchanged). For the first-time ever, every family in social housing will have the chance to relocate by exchanging their home for another one – anywhere in the country. That’s innovation that will increase economic mobility and activity, strengthen families and augment the efficient use of our stock.
 
In housing and planning we have progressive policies across the board that will ensure a Conservative Government repairs and refreshes our housing system.

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  1. Diane Cummings 15th May 2010 at 5:40 pm

    Please tell me the Foot On The Ladder Scheme is only for those who have paid their own rent for 5 years and not been claiming Housing Benefit?
    Otherwise its just another dis-incentive to work.
    We have bred a society too dependant on free money and top ups whilst people who work anf fight to keep a mortgage going, get very little encouragement.
    Because there a so few social tenancies most people who work scrape together enough to rent privately if they can’t afford to buy. Once again no incentive for them.

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