The Sunday Telegraph

Britain still needs more houses


How will the Conservati­ve Party get out of this? In the short term, many Tory MPs believe the party will be savaged in its heartlands if they push ahead with a Planning Bill that could see hundreds of thousands of new homes built in rural and semi-rural areas. The Chesham and Amersham by-election should be a wake-up call, they argue. Create greater protection­s against inappropri­ate developmen­t, they say, or dozens of Tory seats will go the same way and fall to disingenuo­us Lib Dem campaigns.

But in the long term, if the Conservati­ves cannot increase the rate of home-ownership, the party’s future itself will be in jeopardy. Most people want a house of their own – ideally with a garden in a recognisab­le neighbourh­ood. They do not want to be trapped in small flats in city centres, particular­ly when they have children, and they do not especially prize the “flexibilit­y” of renting. Unless the Government can meet these expectatio­ns, it should expect a longer-term shift to the Left among younger people, and the rising attractive­ness of sub-Corbynite economic ideas.

It may well be that the Planning Bill is imperfect. Perhaps there is a case for changing some of its provisions, to ensure developmen­t is sensitive and the necessary infrastruc­ture is provided when new houses are built – particular­ly roads, schools, and GPs’ surgeries. But if it is not the answer, what do Tory backbenche­rs propose the Government do instead? Their response cannot be merely to densify existing urban areas. Increasing­ly that is resulting in the constructi­on of high rises, full of flats that are obviously attractive to some people, but are not the dream home for the majority. Nor will building on brownfield land be sufficient: there is not enough of it. The Government needs to ensure that enough family homes are built, in areas that people want to live in, such that an entire generation is not lost to the bitterness of the Left.

The great suburban expansion of the 1930s, which resulted in the building of hundreds of thousands of desirable semi-detached homes near to transport links and without despoiling beauty spots, showed what can be done. How can we repeat its success?

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