Extracts of the speech on housing Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made on Thursday 22 November 2013:
“Right now, the numbers are not looking good. We’re already building 100,000 fewer houses than we need each year. Over the next decade, each year, the UK’s going to grow by around 230,000 households.
Last year we managed to complete 117,000 – just over half. The credit crunch has certainly exacerbated the problem with mortgages and deposits harder to come by. But this housing crisis has been a long-time in the making: we’ve been under-building for decades.
Unless we take radical action we will see more and more small communities wither, our big cities will become ever more congested as we continue to pile on top of each other and the lack of supply will push prices and rents so high that – unless you or your parents are very rich – for so many young people living in your dream home is going to be a pipe dream. We’re already at the point where, on average, if you don’t get help from your parents, you can’t afford to buy your first home until you’re thirty five. The risk is that’s going to get even worse.
And what’s most staggering about all of this is that everybody knows it. Every political party agrees this is a problem, every Government promises to fix it. But, until now, the political establishment has been overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge, tinkering round the edges and responding with timidity, where only ambition will do.
It’s not hard to understand why. The local politics of new development can be very tricky. And we face some challenging misperceptions. A few years ago the Barker Review found that, if you ask people how much of the country they think is built-up, most say over half. The same study found that it’s actually more like 13. 5%. And now, with very little money around, it’s an even bigger challenge to work out how to build more homes at a time of fiscal restraint.
But the hard realities can no longer be ignored. There’s only one way out of this housing crisis: we have to build our way out. And, just as the urgency should propel us to act, the politics of housebuilding is, in my view, shifting and that should embolden us too.
New development will always make some people uncomfortable. Its absolutely right that we are vigilant against environmental damage and we always strive for development that is sympathetic to its surroundings. That’s why, when the Government reformed planning law last year, we listened to campaigners and made sure important protections were kept in place.
But we’re also witnessing a kind of generational shift in this debate. The babyboomers of the 50s and 60s, people who were largely catered for by the massive housing expansion after the Second World War, are now watching their children struggle. The plight of the next generation is making what was an abstract housing shortage increasingly tangible and real.
Parents want their sons and daughters to have good, safe, affordable options, close to work, close to public transport, close to hospitals and schools. Rural areas want young families to stay in the area to help keep the community alive. And as we, as a society, become more open to development that creates the space for politicians to be bold.
So now is the moment for politicians of all stripes to get behind a major housing push. This will need to span more than one parliament. We need to work together; and we need to be ambitious in our approach.
We looked and we couldn’t find any records of a single new development of over 13,500 homes in this country since the 1970s. We simply don’t have the right incentives and levers to drive sustainable development at scale – that needs to change. When the need for houses is so great, it’s not enough to have a planning system. You have to have a plan and you have to think big.
So, I can announce that the Coalition has identified major housing projects that have hit a wall – and we are intervening directly to unblock them. We are working with a number of large locally-led schemes, ranging from 4000 to 9,500 units in size which, in total will deliver up to 48,600 new homes.
The sites have been held up for various reasons: cash-flow problems following the banking crash; bureaucracy and licensing issues, a lack of upfront investment for infrastructure. Some for up to ten years. And while all of them have strong local supporters, their communities are, understandably, becoming frustrated by these delays.
So we will unlock the barriers to investment. We will make sure that bureaucracy does not hold back these developments: bringing partners together to get action on the ground. And, where investment is required, I can announce new funding. We will provide £225m of government money which will also leverage private investment to effectively de-risk these or similar projects and get them moving.
We will work with prospective developments and ensure that any public sector investment secures value for money from the taxpayer and once these developments are complete, the taxpayer will get that money back.
That’s a first step. But we need to go further. We need to go back to our roots.
In the early 20th Century the great planners of the time – Ebenezer Howard, Raymond Unwin were tasked with housing Britain’s workers following industrialisation and they realised they would have to build anew.
As the Victorian slums were cleared away, they drew up plans for modern, self-contained, green cities. Places which offered the dynamism and opportunity of urban living, but maintained the harmony and natural beauty of country life as well, where industrial hubs, green spaces and residential areas would be carefully connected by cutting edge transport and infrastructure everything meticulously thought through. Garden cities: the town in the country; the best of both worlds.
Letchworth was the first in 1903; then Welwyn. Then came garden suburbs extensions to established urban centres which followed the same principles. Like Hampstead Garden Suburb not far from here. A movement was born, and it swept across the world. You can still see its influence in America, South Africa, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland, Hong Kong, Brazil. Here in the UK, post-war governments were guided by the garden city philosophy as they sought, literally, to rebuild Britain following the ravages of war. In 1946 the New Towns Act was passed, and dozens of New Towns and urban extensions followed: from Corby to Cumbernauld; from Basildon to Bracknell.
It’s time to rediscover that proud tradition of creating new places. We can either condemn ourselves to haphazard urban sprawl the surest way to damage the countryside, we can cram ever more people into existing settlements, concreting over gardens and parks and bear in mind we already build the smallest homes in Western Europe, or we can build places people want to live. Places which draw on the best of British architecture and design, which have their own identity and character, which rather than destroy the countryside, actually have a crucial role in keeping it intact. Places put together in a way that makes sense for modern British families. People who want gardens; who want to live sustainably; no need to be able to move easily between work and home. Garden Cities and Suburbs for the 21st Century.
Stevenage, Peterborough, Milton Keynes these places didn’t spring up of their own accord. People got together and made them happen: through imagination; ambition; leadership. Not every New Town was been perfectly designed but the fact is, people like living in these places. More people now commute into Milton Keynes than out of it: it’s economically independent and still growing strong. It’s time to learn from the success stories and replicate them once more.
So while the Coalition won’t deliver whole new cities overnight, in the Housing Strategy that the Prime Minister and I launched last year, we committed to running a competition to promote a wave of larger-scale projects, where there’s clear local support and private sector appetite. We committed to publishing a prospectus setting out more detail on what we expect from local authorities and developers, and what we can offer in return. We’re hammering out the detail of that now and there’s some fairly lively debate happening in government about how to do this. But I’m very clear: I want the prospectus to offer real and meaningful incentives so that it encourages projects that are big and bold.
Government needs to get better at encouraging these kinds of long-term developments, which, by definition, take time and need certainty. Departments aren’t used to thinking beyond the next Spending Review, let alone the next Parliament – but we need to shift our sights. Of course, we can’t start making decisions for the next spending round now and we need to be realistic about the pressure on the public finances, which will continue for some time. But we can and we must ensure local areas have the time and the direction to prepare their bids.
I want us to make the best offers to the most ambitious proposals. So not just 5000 new homes; but fifteen thousand, twenty-five thousand.
I want us to encourage projects which are sustainable and socially diverse. Where it makes sense I want us to designate more, new greenbelt around new settlements that’s something no government has really done for a generation.
We’ll need to find ways to create more certainty for large scale projects. And, in general, I think we need to move to longer timeframes in the way we budget for capital.
And I want us to offer these projects and communities real financial freedoms. The Coalition has created a new power for local areas to borrow against future business rate revenues tax increment financing. Councils tell me that is a massive help in raising investment for local infrastructure. And, personally, I’m very keen that we look at these kinds of financial freedoms in the context of new garden cities and suburbs too.
So we’ll be saying more shortly, setting out the precise process. And, what will be crucial in all of this is that, while central government provides support, incentives and encouragement, that process will be locally-led. I lead a party that is localist to its core. We now have a chance to show that localism can deliver in a big way. I want us to prove that, when it comes to major development, we don’t need to revert to central planning, we can embrace a new era of community planning instead.
So I urge the people in this room to help make this a success. Garden Cities and Suburbs for the 21st Century. We can rise to this challenges, but only if we see the opportunity too. This isn’t just about bricks and mortar, it’s about giving British families the homes they need, giving children new communities to grow up in, creating places that will grow and thrive and become part of the fabric of this great country. This is the moment to revive the ambition of those who came before us, in order to create a better future for those who will follow us. In keeping with our great British traditions: it’s time to think big.”