Comment: Labour and Tories refuse to build enough homes for Britain

Tim Farron: Labour house building plan not enough to control prices
Tim Farron: Labour house building plan not enough to control prices

I've been really encouraged by growing consensus around the housing crisis. Politicians of all colours know that we need to build homes. But the best way to build ourselves out of a housing crisis is less obvious.

Statistics on Help to Buy were released yesterday. I want to cut through discussion to highlight a wider problem with the way the Conservatives view housing. They want a silver bullet.

They need something on housing. They are, after all, the party of housing (supposedly) - just not when it involves the kind of systemic changes we need to stop prices shooting up. To be fair, I hear that Nick Boles has been a brilliant leader in his own party. But one man doesn’t make a party.

As part of a strategy for solving the housing crisis, the mortgage guarantee part of Help to Buy could perhaps deserve the positive attention our coalition partners give it. But in isolation it risks increasing prices, stoking demand and, crucially, not really solving the problem. It's a short term fix that may in fact not fix anything, except possibly a few votes from people who were lucky enough to buy at the right time in the right place.


Thankfully, there is a growing consensus around the key measures needed to build ourselves out of this crisis. To tackle it you need action across at least four fronts: land, investment, the house building industry and political will.

At Lib Dem party conference this year, our party sent out a clear message: we have that political will and a record on housing in government to prove it. We adopted a series of measures proposed by myself and business secretary Vince Cable. Central to our vision is a commitment to plan for the next generation, not the next election. And that means an ambition to build a home for everybody, not just the lucky few.

Kate Barker's seminal and controversial report in 2004 calculated that in order to simply keep prices rising by 1.1%, we would need to build 240,000 homes a year. That's without taking into account the baby boom we saw at the start of this century, which was equivalent to the post-war boom, an aging population and a backlog of at least a million homes. So Labour’s aim of 200,000 is deceptively unambitious. It won't see prices slow.

Conservatives and Labour must give genuine leadership to the whole country – not just their voter bases. And however good the news seems on Help to Buy, prices will continue to rise until they commit to building enough homes for everybody in Britain. To build at this scale, you need a plan – and no long term economic plan will be complete unless it addresses the truth of our housing need.

Tim Farron is the president of the Liberal Democrat and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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