August 27, 2013 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

Bill Esterson



The Government has just brought in a 20 per cent subsidy to new home buyers known as Help to Buy. As a result, the number of new mortgages has gone up. But at the same time the number of homes being built is at a record low level. The effect of the subsidised mortgages is more money chasing fewer new homes and of course this can only lead to prices rising to even less affordable levels. 

People in Formby, Crosby and Maghull all tell me that young people cannot afford to buy a house and cannot find one to rent either. At the same time of course, the draft local plan is available for consultation and includes proposed sites for house building.

But are the houses that our young people need going to be built? And are the one bed homes for older people going to be built either? 

And what about the one and two bed social houses and flats which are needed by the thousands in Sefton who are having to pay the bedroom tax thanks to the Tories and Lib Dems who can’t see the problem with charging people for having a spare room when there is nowhere smaller for them to move to.

What the government has done is to repeat the same policy which caused the financial crisis. Namely the government is guaranteeing mortgages for people regardless of whether they can pay or not. So when interest rates eventually go up, those people who can’t afford to pay will lose their homes and house prices will fall leaving the government having to pay the difference. A housing bubble was the start of the financial crisis and our Tory-Lib Dem government is repeating the process.

What is needed is more affordable housing so young and old alike can live in homes that are right for them. That means hundreds of thousands of affordable homes, some to buy, some to rent. But that means developers have to be encouraged to build what we need rather than what they want.

We can see in Formby and in Lydiate what developers want to do. They want to build on green belt land to make the biggest profits possible which may not be where local residents want to live and it may not be the type of housing that residents need either. It may well be that developers want to build housing that will only be of interest to people from outside the area who can afford to pay a premium for executive type housing. 

Not much good to people in need of affordable homes who live here now.

According to the rules put in place by this Tory-Lib Dem government, there has to be a local plan that shows where the houses are going to be built and in Sefton this includes a significant amount of green belt. The government rules also mean that failure to have a local plan will mean that the developers can build where they want rather than where the local community would like.

In February 2012, the Electoral Commission found that construction and property firms had given £510,000 to the Conservative Party between July and December of the previous year. In return, in the first 15 months after the general election, senior property industry figures had 28 official meetings with the government over planning reform. Environmental groups were granted only 11 such meetings.

Developers want to build in the green belt. The government is making it more likely that this will happen not least because of the money given to the Tory Party. Meanwhile, the developers have no interest in building homes for people from Formby, Crosby or Maghull because they can make more money from executive housing.

Now the council could refuse to include any green belt in the local plan. But if they did that, the government would just let the developers build on as much green belt as they wanted and certainly on much more than if a local plan put limits on where building can take place. 

The reality is that we need a local plan. But that plan has to protect as much of the green belt as possible and it has to ensure houses are built that reflect the needs of the people of Sefton. The alternative, which the Tory government have in mind propped up remember by the Lib Dems,  is a free for all, with much greater development in the green belt. 

I fear planning, development and housing policies under this government are highly irresponsible and show a disregard both the people of Sefton and to our environment and I only hope that it is possible to resist the threat from the government when the local plan is finalised.