Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by Ms Elizabeth S Pascoe (AH 09)

Re your bullet point one—The potential benefits of and scope to promote greater homeownership

  1.  I cannot comment because in different countries there are different regimes, which work for them. Also for my parents' generation I know there was far less "aspiration" to own one's own dwelling. Personally I have always, from birth, lived in a house I/we owned and would feel most uncomfortable any other way. The scheme we are subject to, labelled "regeneration" would have made most existing home owners into RSL tenants as we could not possibly replace our spacious Victorian houses (for the new small ones), for the compensation on offer.

Bullet two—The extent to which home purchase tackles social and economic inequalities and reduces poverty

  2.  One must assume that gradually paying off a mortgage, say over 25 years, by which time a home is then owned, allows individual choice, dignity, autonomy etc and disposes of the division between the "haves and have-nots", well at least reduces it to "have-a-lots", and "have-not-so-muches". It surely allows people also to "climb" as lives develop. Yet, in other countries there is a different regime, but we can only consider that in which we are.

Bullet three—The economic and social impact of current house prices

  3.  Unfortunately the concept of "home" and "property" have become confused. My own home is affordable. I had no aspiration (at my age and circumstance) to be more than secure. I bought it at the end of a 28 year marriage as I could afford it without mortgage, and it would provide an income. I changed cities to do that. Whereas one son, (33) now working in London, lives in Woking, therefore has a mortgage of over £300,000 which is absolutely crippling. He and his partner cannot afford children, both are high fliers and have to live up to that. I therefore believe excessive house prices will cripple demographics. My daughter, a paediatrician, is now 34 and has no children, partly due to having to keep changing cities (contracts only last a year for young doctors), and so relationships.

Bullet four—The relationship between house prices and housing supply

  4.  Doesn't seem to make sense at all. Not something I can comment on.

Bullet five—Other factors influencing the affordability of housing for sale including construction methods and fiscal measures

  5.  I think dreadful blunders have been made regarding no VAT on new build, whereas refurbishment does incur VAT. Also the added incentives to build on brown field sites has encouraged local authorities and developers, in league with social landlords to attack low price (Victorian) housing/communities supposedly called "regeneration" projects, by deliberate blighting, particularly of areas with high proportions of RSL's. Recent construction methods are poor, in terms of adaptability (can't do attic conversions if the roof space is full of matchstick trusses) workmanship and materials. People have been brain washed into very little intrinsic ability for judgment on everything from food and furniture through to housing and living sustainably. There is a great deal of Victorian housing in the UK, which could be refurbished for 30% the financial cost of new-build, and would last indefinitely (new-build about 30 years, tatty after 10), 25% the cost to the environment, and is also of the compact city preferred form (see Urban Task Force Report). One problem the form doesn't address is lack of parking spaces, hence the need for better public transport, again reduce private cars, an excellent idea. Building on flood plains is happening too often, an insane idea. There is great confusion re value and cost. Prices here in Liverpool, other than those blighted by the LA and RSL's, have trebled in a couple of years. That is good in some respects, but not others. If the situation is compared with a ferry boat then some partitions within the system might reduce the see saw tendencies.

Bullet six—The scale of the Government's plans to boost housing supply

  6.  The road to hell was paved with good intentions. We have demographic change, not that much increase in population. (There is the related issue of immigration, further related to the need for key workers for occupations present UK citizens don't want, because of high housing costs, and round we go again). That takes me back to the issue that homes have become properties, due to a large extent to the mobility of the workforce. I have a daughter in Glasgow, a son in London, another son in Devon, all due to having to move cities for their work. This boosting housing supply issue is rather like the demands we have had for more and more roads. Sustainability, as in our natural environment/life support system demands that we go more for the "make do and mend" principles that we used to live by. Within 100 years we could be back in an ice age here in UK. I believe that if you ask SHELTER and similar agencies they can tell you that the number of houses taken out of use by various agencies, that would be local authorities, social landlords and others, would house all who are waiting. The likelihood is that the government's plans are actually causing the problem. "See the wise words you have spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools", except in this instance not that wise. I suggest you read the books read by Prof Anne Power LSE to get more insight. And as we stand right now we are in the "Emperor's New Clothes" scenario.

Bullet seven—The relative importance of increasing the supply of private housing as opposed to subsidised housing

  7.  Subsidies in the long run always cause grief. A neighbour of mine in Devon hung himself due to milk quotas. He could never again earn enough money to pay for his new milking parlour. People have basic primary needs (a) for food (b) for shelter (secondary issues of (c) education (d) healthcare and so on). I am sure if the government addressed itself more to employment the rest would sort itself out, given time. That all the wonderful things we used to do in UK are now done elsewhere, cheaper, is difficult to address. In those other countries they have the motivation "work or starve". And of course we have the reputation of being more responsible/civilised than that. It was a bad idea, extremely bad, for LA's to transfer housing stocks to RSL's as people no longer feel secure, and for good reason. RSL's, having "business" in more than one city, can shift themselves around and control in "Big Brother" style, not only their own assets, but affect any neighbourhood in which their assets happen to exist. It was in the first instance because councils could not borrow to do essential repairs. It is at this level all attention should be paid. If there was more security people would often not chose to buy, particularly those who find, for work, they need to switch cities. Attention should be paid to keeping areas mixed tenure. Also the idea that due to economies of scale (to repair) one RSL should monopolise an area is a bad one, as we find, commonly, they do not, in the event, repair, but vacate and board up, pressurising the rest of the community

Bullet eight—How the planning system should respond to the demand for housing for sale

  8.  Local planners, under the influence of certain local authority megalomaniacs, can louse up almost anything you come up with. Every tool produced can be used for good or ill. There are certainly done deals between LA planners and developers that are supposedly responding to needs, but in fact are rather more malignant in nature. Much of what central government tries to do is like a spanner in the works of natural systems and markets, which have to evolve naturally. It is exactly the same situation as when we do aid to third world countries, it can do more harm than good if you tamper, especially with things you don't understand. In chemistry a catalyst only encourages what will happen anyway, it doesn't change the result. There must be the expertise to answer all these questions, I don't have it. All I know is that I am living with the results.

Bullet nine—The scale of housing development required to influence house prices and the impact of promoting such a programme on the natural and historical environment and infrastructure provision

  9.  I suggest that you do a case study, simply look through all the evidence produced for the Edge Lane West public Inquiry. Reading this one really scares me. You have more power than is safe. I would think the scale of means that some idiot has come up with the idea that if you cause a housing glut then prices are bound to go down. But the damage to not only the natural and historic environment but also the social and economic environment could be lethal. No joke, you scare me profoundly. What everything needs is stabilisation, and a root cause of many problems is the RSL. Do not over-react. The immediate need is to make good the housing stock we already have, as it is cheapest/less damaging. New-build is of poorer quality and too expensive. Then when the dust settles (most people housed) then see where the needs are, and respond to need. There is too much confusion now.

Bullet ten—The regional disparities in the supply and demand for housing and how they might be tackled

  10.  Regional disparities are evening out of their own accord. There will be places where, for the time being, due to lack of employment, no-one will want to live. BUT, in natural time, assuming no ice age (which is a big assumption) due to the power of the internet, people will be able to work away from the SE, and may well choose to work in those places where at present there is no employment, just to get out of the rat race. It is known that good schools and good public open space are key factors in encouraging people to move to an area. There are so many books on such matters. Maybe someone making these decisions should be thoroughly educated in what is necessary!

  It has to be said that such things are extremely complex, and you are unlikely to find a single simple answer, if any answer at all (eg Why with all the opportunities in this country are we as a nation not doing better?). If you took a panel of say 20 people who really knew a great deal, and listened to them all discussing whatever issues they saw as relevant then it is likely you might get a sensible view. At present it seems like swinging from one blunder to the next, over- compensating each time.

  I have responded to your bullet points. They are just some aspects, and in some ways seemingly so na-­ve that I think you are on the bottom rung of the ladder of understanding, and you/someone seriously need to be aware of that. ONE THING ESSENTIAL IS TO STOP SHIFTING GOAL POSTS/CHANGING RULES.

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