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Labour’s action on housing doesn’t match its rhetoric

18 August 2014

On the face of it, it’s a simple equation. In the north-London borough of Islington, there are almost 9,000 people on the housing waiting list. The area needs more homes. A Conservative-led Government cuts red-tape, making it possible to convert empty and redundant office space into new homes without planning permission. Local council chiefs ought to welcome this – recognising this will help address their local housing shortage.

But not so in Labour-run Islington, where the Council is instead threatening legal action against the Government for freeing up much-needed homes in this way. For the second time since the legislation was introduced in May 2013, the council is intent on using taxpayers’ money to challenge it. In February they tried and failed to get it banned altogether.

All this fuss from a Labour council whose leader made housing a ‘key priority’ that he said Labour would address. A cynic might call it political posturing. I say what a nerve! Whatever side of the political divide you’re on, no-one can doubt our change-of-use reforms will deliver more homes where previously there was empty space – at no cost to the taxpayer. And for every extra home that is delivered one more family can enjoy greater financial security and peace of mind.

Just six months after these new change-of-use rules came into force, a survey carried out by the Estates Gazette found more than 2,250 applications for office-to-residential changes had been made. A report by Knight Frank supported this evidence, concluding this new policy had led to applications for conversions totalling roughly 3.2 million square feet. All the evidence points to this new policy having a positive impact: helping to provide competitively-priced homes for hard-working people.

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But what have Labour said? In October, the Shadow Planning Minister called the policy ‘misguided’ and the Shadow Local Government Minister said it was ‘the opposite of what our high streets need’. Labour Assembly Member Nicky Gavron, acknowledging London’s surplus of office space, warned the plans could be ‘using a sledgehammer to crack a nut’.​

The truth is, they’re opposing this scheme because they can’t impose development taxes on such homes. It’s the same old Labour: more spending, more borrowing, more taxes.

For a party that keeps saying housing is one of their main priorities this is depressing. It shows that Ed Miliband and the Labour Party have no plan on housing. They have opposed all the sensible measures we’ve taken to boost homes and home ownership. One example is our Help to Buy scheme, which has helped increase house-building to its highest level since 2007: over 445,000 new homes since 2010, with more than 200,000 new affordable homes.

Look to the Conservatives, however, and you see that change-of-use forms is part of a wider push to build thousands of new homes on previously-developed land. Other schemes include publicly-owned land to deliver 100,000 homes by 2015 and giving the public new powers to challenge the Government to sell its land and property. Just last week, our housing minister Brandon Lewis opened bids for a share of £200 million to create 10 housing zones on brownfield – large enough to deliver up to 2,000 homes outside the capital. A similar initiative in London would lead to 20 zones in London.

Labour – and their Islington councillors – are making a lot noise on housing. But their statist approach to housing policy, with higher taxes and more red tape, would in reality lead to a reduction in housing supply and take Britain back to the record low levels of house-building seen when they were in Government.

Bob Neill is the MP for Bromley & Chislehurst and Vice Chairman of the Conservative party for Local Government.

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  • andagain

    has helped increase house-building to its highest level since 2007

    So housebuilding still has not reached the level it had before the crash. And that level was pretty anemic itself.

    I remember that when the government tried to make it easier to get planning permission a few years ago, all the opposition and screams of protest came from the Tory press. I’ll believe the Conservatives promises about housebuilding when I see a building boom.

    It’s less than a year to the next election, and it hasn’t happened yet.

  • swatnan

    Usual tripe from Bob Neil propagandist for the Tory Party.
    The solution is to move more people out of London into newly planned New Towns and Garden Cities, with opportunities for a fresh new life in a clean atmosphere with gardens shops and services and jobs, all built into the framework. Whoever wants to live in a Office Block 20 flights up in penthouse apartments overlooking fantastic view of the Thames?

    • Pete

      I have recently converted the top floor of an office building into 5 flats . The flats have been fully let since conversion so the answer is that old offices can make perfectly good (and much needed) homes.

      • swatnan

        Would your flats be classed as affordable housing?
        That is the problem in London, shortage of affordable Housing.
        Im quite happy to accept that those offices storey could be converted into luxury penthouse flat for the wealthy.

        • Pete

          Luxury flats. I wish. Sale value about 60% of UK average.

    • Last Man Standing

      Why do we want to build new towns with the vast costs of infrastructure just to house migrant populations? It would surely be better to begin a determined process of demigration and to regenerate our existing towns and cities when the pressure of migrant population and migrant population growth has been brought to appropriate levels.

      • swatnan

        Migrants would want to stay in London. the major problem is ‘White Flight’ working classes with a bit of money in their pockets that want to escape the hustle and bustle of Big towns like London, into the suburbs. Migrants want to stay in London and help keep the economy of London ticking over. and thats where the work is.

  • The Wiganer

    Affordable Housing.

    Otherwise known as giving a nice new house to someone who doesn’t deserve it, paid for by people who can’t afford to buy the open market houses but are too well off for the ‘affordable’ ones.

  • pointlesswasteoftime

    I have a friend who runs a small business from a studio in a block of small businesses in Islington. They are all being turfed out by the end of the year so the owners can sell up and cash in on a change to housing property. This means businesses will have to re-locate, probably to more expensive places and some out of the borough. Some will give up entirely. Some will go bust through the process. It’s not as problem free, as you seem to suggest.

  • Alexsandr

    another useless piece on housing without mentioning the cause of the problem,immigration.
    Come on Editor James, get you writers to do a proper job. Or dont bother.

  • GraveDave

    helping to provide competitively-priced homes for hard-working people.

    Aw, aint that good of yer. Sticking people in shithole boxes.

  • fundamentallyflawed

    “445,000 new homes since 2010, with more than 200,000 new affordable homes.”

    If a house is not affordable then how can a company sell it?
    By allowing people to borrow far more than they can afford and topping up the rest with public funds

    The housing crisis will not be solved until house prices are back in line with average wages.

    • Conway

      And the increase in the population is reduced to manageable levels.

      • fundamentallyflawed

        Sterilisation of the Jeremy Kyle Generation? Not everything is purely down to immigration.
        No doubt it puts pressure on services across the board and I agree that current levels are unsustainable – if not financially but to the way of life most of us enjoy currently. However I don’t see poor immigrants from Bangladesh and India etc eating up housing at 200k a house.

    • andagain

      If a house is not affordable then how can a company sell it?

      I think its the latest euphemism for “subsidised”.

      • fundamentallyflawed

        Well yes.. And help to buy is a further subsidy. Affordable means – slightly less profit than normal.
        Its not in the property companies interests to build houses and sell them for anything other than market value

  • Peter Stroud

    Office blocks often lend themselves to fairly simple conversion to apartments, and more of these facilities will become available, as the population working from home increases. How typical of Labour to object to this move. And how typical that Miliband has not even a single sound bite, regarding his housing policy.

    • Mynydd

      It’s only one Labour controlled council that is objecting, If there had been more I am sure Mr Neill would have said so.

    • Conway

      It certainly beats building on farm land.

    • Mr Creosote

      The labour Councils are only objecting because they can’t fleece the developer for affordable housing and other Section 106 land taxes!!

  • cambridgeelephant

    I am no Labour fan or admirer but even allowing for that their almost total absence of policy innovation since the financial collapse – on their watch and after ten years of their legislation, no less – is astonishing.

    Not only are they devoid of any original thinking on the economy, they actually seem to be going backwards in other area. Back to the pre Thatcher era that they so love and dream of.

    The fact that they stand a chance of returning to Government is incredible. They certainly don’t deserve to and for what it’s worth I don’t think they will. The sheer paucity of their prospectus is damning.

    • Conway

      The disconnect Labour evince between the problems we face and the results of their policies is quite astounding. We would not have such a housing problem if they hadn’t flung the doors wide open and avoided deporting illegals.

  • Fraser Bailey

    Well, Labour’s action on anything is not matched by their rhetoric.

    The same, on the whole, applies to the Tories.

    No story here.

    • monty61

      Indeed. The fact that Labour is utterly hapless doesn’t mean Tory housing policy
      is any better. On thecontrary it’sbeen a dismal failure.

  • Gwangi

    The only simple equation is this: we have had 4 million immigrants over the last 20 years and our population goes up by half a million per year, largely from immigration or immigrant babies.
    We need fewer people, not more homes.
    THAT is the simple equation.
    And yet I see no action to remove illegal immigrants or force immigrants to return to their countries of origin, or refugees to the first safe country they reached; I see instead millions upon millions spent to make it easy for these new arrivals, whilst native people suffer.
    I used to live in London and am from the area. I have been forced out by insane property prices cause by 1) immigration; 2) government policies to make house prices rise through easy credit; 3) foreign and investment buyers of property forcing up prices.
    And it always makes me laugh too when people talk of ‘affordable homes’. Oh you mean little boxes with zero storage space and just 2 rooms, where the poor native proles can live while the metropolitan elite live in nice big house in Islington or Clapham.

    • John Dalton


      • Gwangi

        Is that a new Channel 4 series? It could feature the ethnic cleansing of native Londoners by immigrants who have changed their home areas into state-funded fcuk-up microcosms of Asian hellholes?

    • Alexsandr

      ant the guys they found at Tilbury. All very sad but send them back the Belgium. Their problem, not ours.

  • Blindsideflanker

    This is just an irrelevant spat between Labour and Conservatives, where they fight over some small part of the consequences of mass immigration, while failing to do anything about the millions of immigrant cause they are letting in.

  • you_kid

    Look at the image, it depicts 315 odd no. homes in London.

    Book value 2013: £315,000,000
    Book value 2014: £378,000,000
    Work done to increase property value: £0

    That’s English economic policy, in a nutshell.

    • Gwangi

      Yep – makes one hope for more riots and some Muslim dirty bombs in London. That’d make the prices drop what what? Maybe even the Russians and other gangsters would stop stashing their cash in London property then too?

  • Denis_Cooper

    And the Tories’ action on mass immigration doesn’t match its rhetoric, does it?

    • Liberty

      They have non-EU immigration sorted, EU immigration is an EU responsibility and we cannot change it unless the LDs agree in this government or we get out of the EU in 2017.

      • itdoesntaddup

        No they don’t. Non EU immigration was net 146,000 in 2013.

      • Denis_Cooper

        Rubbish, Cameron went to India and effectively invited the whole of Indian youth to come here and study and stay on afterwards.

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