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The housing white paper sets councils up as scapegoats

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It starts like a bullet. You can’t fault the fury that drives it. 

Houses ’earn’ more than the people living in them. Folk on £90,000 a year need a state handout to get on the ladder. The facts come thick and fast.

What did you expect to see next? I’ll tell you what I was waiting for. Surely it’s time for the big shift? As incomes are neither here nor there, let’s tax assets. That’s how you will get house prices under control.

But it fizzled out. To be fair, switching taxes is a brave thing to do now when so many home owners would lose out. As we get to a majority of renters that will change. This is just a stop gap.

So why has the white paper gone down so well? That’s easy to answer. There’s a main part for everyone. Councils are back in the housebuilding game. Housing associations are in from the cold. There will be cheering in the streets of Beijing as they plough cash into our housebuilding factories.

It reminds me of the days when we thought building more roads would ease congestion. There’s a touching faith in the laws of supply and demand. Let’s say you do build more homes. The crucial thing is who buys them. All things being equal the already rich will snap up the good stuff. We see that every day. Sadly the white paper won’t stop this.

And some of the thinking is just sloppy. It wants to bring in a lot of small developers. The more the merrier. Yet at the same time it wants to cull housing associations to save money. It rails against speculation, but praises a guy for selling a land bank for £500m. Nice work if you can get it.

I just love the way the white paper looks after wildlife. Let’s hear it for strategic licensing of great crested newts! Thank goodness the little guys will be safe.

It’s a pity you can’t say the same for council planners. Are they really going to get lots of loot to speed things up? We’ve heard that before. ‘There you go councils, you can keep all the rent money. Oops, we forgot to tell you about the rent cut. Never mind.’ So I have my doubts that the money will turn up.

Instead I fear councils are being set up as the fall guys. If we don’t build enough homes they will get the blame.

So it’s three cheers for councils building homes again. We do need low cost rented homes, but there is a quid pro quo: you get to keep your key role as scapegoats for central government. That’s a job for life.

Alistair McIntosh, chief executive, Housing Quality Network


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