East meets Westminster: How to beat the housing crisis and boost the economy

Britain is gripped by a housing crisis, writes RICHARD PORRITT.

People in their 30s are unable to leave their parents because of the affordability of first homes. In many parts there are simply not enough properties and landlords are consistently hiking rents because they know tenants do not have the deposits to give them the option to buy.

The answer is simple of course – build thousands of homes up and down the UK. This would quickly solve the house price issue and if they were similar in size and quality it would only impact the market in areas where competition is so fierce it is leaving a generation all but homeless.

And it has often been suggested that the best way to beat a recession is to build your way out. Perfect.

Let us focus on Suffolk Coastal as an example. Areas including Trimley, Felixstowe and Martlesham are earmarked as needing new homes – more than 11,000 in fact, a figure which has grown since the plans were revealed.

But why stop there? There are plenty of empty spaces along the coast. Time to put up a few high rises along the beach at Bawdsey? Chop those annoying trees down in Tunstall forest and it would be perfect for an estate with schools and even retail opportunities.

Or even better why does Suffolk County Council not offer to sort out the lack of air capacity in the South East? Build the runways near Sutton Hoo and travellers could exit through the gift shop.

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And why even stop there? The influx of tourists and the thousands of new families who have moved out east will need things to do at the weekend. Minsmere is far too sedate – building a Disney-style fun park around the bird theme would get more money in the tills. And a shopping centre is frankly vital – Manchester’s Trafford Centre, with is very tasteful mock-Baroque architecture, is a perfect model. Southwold would certainly benefit.

Thankfully the prospect of a rollercoaster at Minsmere or 747s coming in to land over Woodbridge is as alien as Nick Clegg leading his Liberal Democrats to a runaway victory at the next general election.

But Government would give them the green light if they could because of the influx of jobs and money they would create at a time when any financial impetus is more than welcome. And this is set to leave David Cameron’s Tories increasingly torn – risk votes in areas of significant beauty or risk stagnation?

Well hear this Mr Cameron and planners across the UK: Bad decisions now will be impossible to reverse in the future.

As an example we should take the attempts at slum clearance – an odd comparison one might suggest but one that is similar in many ways to the position the UK finds itself in today.

Manchester in the 1960s and 70s was a very different place from the city where the showy Trafford Centre now attracts shoppers from across the north of England and beyond. Back then there were falling down houses in row after row of tightly packed streets still black with the smoke from the factories which billowed out across the vast city.

Plenty of well-meaning politicians and social philanthropists had long urged for a change in the way people in council housing lived.

So finally work began to raze the decades old slums to the ground and build new, spacious homes for families that offered gardens and driveways. Garden cities such as Letchworth and Welwyn were used as inspiration for the projects. And the Government rubbed its hands together as it thought it was achieving a political double-bubble – helping the poorest people in society and creating jobs and wealth over long periods. What could possibly go wrong?

What actually happened – and it was due in the main to a lack of planning and a emphasis on getting building as soon as possible – was the creation of some of Europe’s biggest and most notorious council estates where for long periods in the 1980s and 1990s even the police feared to go.

Today things are looking better for Manchester’s estates after projects to break up the size of council estates.

The point of this example is not that Suffolk Coastal is about to become a sprawling estate where lawless thugs and pregnant teenage guttersnipes still dressed in their pyjamas at 5pm gather outside the bookies to buy drugs and mug old ladies – because it is not.

The point is that movement of people through house creation can have a wide and often unforeseen impact on them and the surrounding population.

Thousands more homes means thousands more jobs which in turn means more places to go to work. And of course people drive to work so Suffolk Coastal might need more roads and a better rail service.

Britain needs more homes. And it is because of this that the Government is set to tinker with planning laws so there is a presumption of approval. This is a very blinkered view for places such as Suffolk Coastal and many more across East Anglia.

It is now vital that councils enforce frameworks to protect areas while still doing their bit to ensure everyone is pulling together.

The housing market is the perfect place to start. But not at the cost of some of Britain’s most beautiful areas.

n Richard Porritt is on Twitter @Porritt

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