Boles’ Housing Solution is the Road to Nowhere
There is a depressing lack of imagination to Nick Boles’ proposed solution to our housing problems. Essentially it boils down to ‘build more‘. The only nuance in the argument as far as I can tell is that we need to make houses prettier. This reminds me of the RAC’s argument for building more roads – it’ll be fine, as long as they are well routed.
Both arguments fail to address the fundamental causes of the problems they are trying to solve. For hundreds of years the UK has had the luxury of being able to keep building to try and solve our problems. Understandably as our island gets more crowded that solution is losing popularity. Building takes time and will not usually be possible in the places we need it most – our cities. We need solutions that address fundamental inequalities of ownership and purchasing power within the UK housing market. While we remain in a feudal kingdom, we are unlikely to get to grips with those core issues that leave us with the scandal that allows 70% of land to be owned by 1% of the population. However we can introduce simple tax and incentive arrangements to normalise property prices and encourage those with the means to avoid hoarding our country’s most precious asset.
The biggest demand for housing is in cities so instead of concreting the countryside, let’s encourage a sell-off of flats and houses in our towns. We could do this through a combination of:
i) Higher taxes on second homes;
ii) Restrictions on foreign ownership;
iii) Better regulation of private rental sector.
These signals would all cause those that would otherwise buy up property to think twice and help free up additional capacity in the existing urban housing stock. Add a mansion tax and we would start to see the logical decision of those with above average incomes to pour capital into housing begin to change. By investing instead in pension funds or long-term investments that cash could be put to better use in the real UK economy, rather than blocking millions out of the housing market.
Boles thinks we can simply build our way out of our housing crisis. By putting this plan forward he is supporting a political demographic that have invested heavily in second or third properties. But when those homes begin to spoil the view for those very people with spare flats in town, that support will evaporate. Car owners love more roads, except when they come through their garden. Boyles has tried two tactics to win over the doubters. This attempt to scare people with threats about their children’s future is a step up from branding doubters “scaremongering Luddites“. It is still disappointing. The housing crisis in the UK is worthy of more thoughtful arguments and more progressive ideas.