The Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, attended the launch of the SHOUT campaign on 18th June last year. Now, just 8 months later, the party has committed itself to the key plank of SHOUT’s programme – to build 100,000 social rented homes a year. You can read the press statement here and the policy background here.
Make no mistake, this is a ground-breaking and singular success for SHOUT, a cross-party campaign that is barely eight months' old and has almost no resources (but plenty of committed people).
There is clear evidence that the Greens have digested the SHOUT manifesto, because in announcing the new policy their housing spokesman Tom Chance said, “Social housing has provided decent, affordable homes for millions of people over the past 150 years.” I recognised these words at once (because I wrote them) and they appear on page 5 of the SHOUT manifesto.
The details of how the new policy will be implemented don’t bear close scrutiny – the numbers on Page 5 don’t quite add up and the abolition of mortgage interest relief for private landlords might not square the circle to pay for it, since landlords would leave the market and tax revenues would fall. Ramping up production from a standing start would also be difficult to achieve. But these are minor quibbles, it is the intention that counts.
It’s clear that the Green Party policy on housing is developing along the right lines and is ahead of many other parties. Steve Hilditch has already provided an elegant critique here, which pre-dates this latest announcement. My Twitter colleague Nathan Drewett had an email exchange with the Green’s policy people that also helps to clarify a few issues. Writing as a potential supporter Nathan posed three questions about their commitment to housebuilding targets, their stance on greenfield and Green Belt development tand heir policy aim of spreading homes more evenly across the UK.
The response from their policy team suggests that their main emphasis will be on empty homes and brownfield land, with a bias against any greenfield development. They also want to re-distribute jobs to parts of the country where there is a surplus of homes. The Greens would “…strengthen legislation to protect the greenbelt. The greenbelt should be protected by minimising greenbelt development wherever possible. We believe the countryside should be revitalised, to let rural communities thrive”, they said.
This seems rather contradictory since you can’t stimulate the rural economy by putting a blanket ban on development in the Green Belt and I’m not sure their policy people understand that the Green Belt is not co-terminous with greenfield (the Green Belt is around 13 percent of England’s land area but 46 percent of England’s area is “other countryside” and exempt from statutory protection, such as Green Belt, SSSI, AONB and National Park). I’ve written numerous blogs pointing out that brownfield land on its own is insufficient to meet medium and long-term housing needs.
However, Tom Chance, in a twitter exchange last Thursday with a few SHOUT supporters seemed more amenable to a flexible approach on greenfield. It’s clearly the case that well planned urban extensions and new settlements providing low-carbon homes in self-sufficient communities that aim to reduce commuting (particularly commuting that leapfrogs the green belt) can be more “green” than unplanned growth. Tom appears to acknowledge this - “…we see a role for reviews to address leapfrogging” he said. He also states that “a lot of brownfield should be retained as wildlife rich”. Both statements are sound and sensible.
All in all this is a significant step forward for the SHOUT campaign, so well done to the Green Party! This progressive policy could have a big impact upon undecided voters who see housing as a key election issue, so the other parties will need to draw conclusions on the wall and reflect upon their housing offer to the nation. The challenge now for SHOUT is to persuade the other main parties to follow suit.
Note: this blog by Colin Wiles also appeared on the Inside Housing Website on the 9th February 2015.