Labour is the party of housing innovation – and is leading the debate on our the current crisis

A comprehensive whole-stock solution is needed


The stark statistics of our housing crisis are well known.

More than five million new households forming over the next 25 years; council waiting lists at 3.5m people; growing homelessness, rough sleeping and the use of temporary accommodation; house prices and rents in the private sector rising far more rapidly than inflation and earnings; developers hoarding land; and the effective end of social house-building.

Labour is now leading the housing debate, promising a ‘consumer rights revolution’ for renters, with the introduction of new legal standards for rented homes, to tackle rogue or absentee landlords.

But perhaps the most striking initiative is a report published by Shadow Housing Minister John Healey MP through the Labour Housing and Planning Innovation Network, which Healey set up in 2015.

The report describes how Labour in power in local government is building innovative solutions to meeting housing need, supporting mixed communities and enabling affordable home ownership — all in the face of massive cuts to local government finance since 2010.

The report concludes that Labour in power is the party of housing and planning innovation, featuring ground-breaking local council programmes in partnership with housing associations, developers, investors, lenders, landlords, public agencies and community groups across England.

Key initiatives highlighted by the Healey report include:

  • Croyden London Borough founding a council-owned housing development company to aggregate smaller sites for new homes.
  • Manchester City Council establishing a partnership with Greater Manchester Pension Fund to build 240 new homes.
  • Birmingham City Council creating a council-owned company which built its 2,000th new home in 2016.
  • Bristol City Council making domestic abuse victims top priority for social housing.
  • Enfield London Borough establishing cost-effective, temporary accommodation for homeless people.
  • Cambridge City Council providing interest-free loans of up to £25,000 to help bring empty properties back into residential use.
  • Bradford Council preventing homelessness through private sector lettings.
  • Reading Borough Council enabling £30m investment in the council owned housing company ‘Homes for Reading’ to meet affordable housing needs.
  • Warrington Borough Council establishing one of the first local authority mortgage schemes, which has already underwritten £22.7m of mortgages.
  • Exeter City Council setting-up new ultra-high standards for healthy homes.
  • London Borough of Newham founding a wholly-owned commercial developer to stimulate the private rent and sale markets.
  • Gateshead Council creating a £350m public-private partnership delivering 2,400 homes.
  • Liverpool City Council establishing a scheme to turn dilapidated terraced houses into desirable, energy efficient homes.
  • Barking and Dagenham London Borough supporting the right to invest in shared ownership of new homes for council tenants.

Each of these initiatives stresses the innovation of Labour in power to confront the housing crisis. However, as always, such initiatives can only make a relatively small contribution to reducing the scale of the housing problem now faced in England.

Only a comprehensive and ‘whole stock’ housing strategy, backed by proper funding to invest in new and existing homes (especially social homes), as well urban renewal and place-shaping, will begin to resolve a crisis that has been long in the making.

Kevin Gulliver is Director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute, writing in a personal capacity. Follow him on Twitter @kevingulliver

See: The government’s white paper won’t reverse the decline of social housing

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

3 Responses to “Labour is the party of housing innovation – and is leading the debate on our the current crisis”

  1. Craig Mackay

    It is clear that Labour have tried very hard to do what they can from a local authority point of view but the constraints set by central government on funding and financial autonomy makes things very hard. The solution is even harder because of major problems in finding the resources (skilled craftsmen, materials right down to the provision of bricks) are acute if we are to build substantially more houses, something that is absolutely essential if we are ever to begin to catch up. There is a detailed look at some of the approaches that might actually let us do something on a sensible timescale. However it does need capital to get things off the ground, but a Labour government understands that that does not increase the deficit. It is an investment in our future. You can read about this here:

  2. Dave Roberts

    Your correct on all of the factors Craig but reach the wrong conclusion. There is no available land, materials shortages can be solved but there is a permanent and growing shortage of skilled crafts people. The questions will always remain, where are the homes going? Who pays? Who builds them? Sort that out and you have a solution.

  3. Craig Mackay

    I think you’re right, Dave, about the supply of land. There is a good two years supply of land which has already had planning permission and is being held by the big developers and others. However I do think that we have to develop a more realistic approach to greenbelt land. In England, about 13% of the land area is designated as greenbelt. Under 3% of the land area is “developed” (definitions are not easy: This 3% has provided homes for 25 million people. It means that 1 million new homes on average would be about 0.1% of the UK land area. Housing construction costs are running currently at 70% for the land up from 25% in the 1950s. I believe the strategy has to be rezoning a very small amount of the greenbelt specifically for a new housing initiative where the land is purchased at its current value as greenbelt.

    The shortage of skilled people must mean we must really focus on modular, industrial construction. This is widespread in Europe and Scandinavia. The properties look great and are built to a very high standard as well as being surprisingly cheap to put together. It does need a dedicated approach but I do believe that in that piece ( the solution is there.

    We must solve this problem. We must do something about it. Government after government pays lip service to doing something yet nothing happens. In my area major developers are progressively building houses and selling them. They bought the land a long time ago and the houses cost essentially the same to build as they did five years ago yet the selling costs of nearly doubled in that time. Who could possibly be making all the profit? That is why a Housing Authority needs to have the capacity to manage and organise the whole process itself.

Leave a Reply