So the Government has come up with yet another cunning plan to encourage more housebuilding. Communities Minister Sajid Javid is consulting on a new, simpler method of calculating housing targets to be applied across the board for housing targets to ensure that the ‘right homes [sic]’ get built in the ‘right places’. Bizarrely, in the newspeak that the political class is so keen on, this new centralised system of imposing housing targets will ‘give local communities greater control’.
In reality of course, as well as doing nothing of the kind, it also won’t result in the ‘right homes’ in the ‘right places’. This is because the Tories are still trapped by their ideological obsession with private market delivery. They cherish the delusion that their developer chums and their mates in the construction companies will ‘solve’ the housing crisis once and for all. If only they build enough new houses prices will plummet and everyone will then miraculously be able to afford a home.
The imposition of local targets, carefully calibrated for every local authority, implies that the Government thinks there are lots of tiny housing markets scattered across the land that respond solely to local supply and demand. The consultation document is backed up with technical reports that are in turn littered with questionable counter-factual data based on unproven assumptions. One such is the assertion that increasing housing stock by X% will then produce a X% price fall. If that were the case then Cornwall, which has seen a huge increase in its housing stock, at a faster rate than virtually all English counties since the 1960s, should have rock-bottom house prices.
We don’t. Because the Tories fail to take into account supply-side factors or the wider effects of local price changes. They prefer instead to put their faith in a naive neo-classical market model where house prices respond solely to demand (equated to number of people + income) and supply (planning permissions granted). Nothing to do with political decisions, interest rates, mortgage company policies, marketing strategies etc. then.
Even if prices were to fall by pushing the number of houses built in Cornwall through the (yet to be constructed) roof, this would merely result in an increased demand from the ‘let’s buy our Cornwall [sic] lifestyle’ brigade. Especially as estate agents, developers and construction companies aggressively market the surplus supply to exactly that lifestyle market. To prevent this, and incidentally begin to protect the Cornish environment and heritage, the market has to be regulated, while massively extending public provision of social housing to meet genuine local need. But that’s not on offer.
So how does all the fiddling with the figures involved in Sajid’s new simple sums apply to Cornwall?
Let’s remind ourselves where we are. In 2015 Cornwall’s planners finally convinced councillors not to contest the Government’s (and their) wishes, throw in the towel and feebly accept a 20 year housing target of 47,500. This was already around 34-35,000 more than was needed to meet the demand for extra housing arising from within existing Cornish communities. The majority was to go to meet external demand, thereby locking us into the continuing spiral of rapid population growth required in order to fill the houses and meet this disastrous target.
This was then bumped up to 52,500 by the Government’s
hatchet-man Inspector. Now we have this latest wheeze and – surprise, surprise – up goes the target by another 5,000 or so, to a staggeringly irresponsible 57,780. Sajid is giving the screw yet another turn, even though there’s precious few pips willing to squeak about it any more.
How does Cornwall compare with other places?
If we look at the percentage change now proposed when compared with the previous ‘locally [sic’] assessed need’ figures we find that the uplift of 10.1% in Cornwall is above the average but not the highest. Two groups of English counties, in the westcountry and in the south east, will see increases higher than Cornwall’s. The largest is in Greater London, where the Government wants to increase the target by an unlikely 62%. Wherever will they fit all those houses? Hyde Park perhaps? Or the under-occupied housing and grounds at Buckingham Palace?
More usefully, we can calculate how many houses the Government want to see built in relation to the existing population. As we can see from the map, apart from Somerset (which is only very, very slightly higher than Cornwall), all the areas with a greater proposed housing target in relation to population are found in the over-heated and already over-populated south east of England.
Cornwall stands out. We seem to be part of South East England in housing terms, except that that we’re geographically distant and a hell of a lot poorer. This unusual combination – high population and housing growth together with economic deprivation – needs unique policies and special treatment. But we’re not going to get that either, just more centralization, more population growth and more colonialism. Maybe Cornwall Council will begin to demand that special treatment and respect for the national minority status of the Cornish. [Joke?]