Just like health, housing is one of those big social agenda items where everyone knows what’s broken but can’t get a handle on how to fix it. That might change though.
According to national newspaper reports, Labour is looking at plans that will force landowners to part with sites at below market price in an effort to cut the cost of council-house building.
Landowners currently sell at a potential price that takes into account the so-called “hope value” associated with possible development. This means factoring in how a hectare of farming land worth around £20,000 could sell for £2m if designated for housing.
Labour wants to see the creation of a Sovereign Land Trust with powers to buy sites at more competitive rates. This will need revised legislation to enable compulsory purchase of land at a price that excludes the likelihood of future planning consent.
Intervention measures of this kind would be bad news for firms who operate as ‘strategic landowners’. Many, including outfits like Legal & General, make a packet for investors by speculatively buying up agricultural land and selling it on for development.
At first sight, this radical plan looks like Labour reverting its red-toothed anti-capitalist ways. Yet you might be surprised to learn the approach is not a million miles away from what Conservative policy-makers have been quietly suggesting with their talk of a “muscular” means of boosting the availability of cheaper housing.
Both parties have criticised the extent of land-banking across the UK. They’re also unimpressed with councils who tap into land sale windfalls as a backdoor revenue stream for stuff like road-building rather than use it to build affordable homes.
Conservatives are split over the prospect of direct state involvement. Liz Truss, chief secretary to the Treasury, has described the idea as “deeply sinister” despite the idea getting support among backbenchers.
However, even if cross-party agreement is eventually possible, we can expect strong opposition from landowners, many of whom are pension funds.
The Country Land and Business Association which represents over 30,000 landowners across rural England & Wales has already flagged up the possibility of legal challenge.
Maybe we should just have a referendum.
Keeping democracy local
There’s patently mixed views over recently announced spending plans by Mumbles Community Council. At least that’s the impression to be gained from social media.
Councillors have voted to boost the budget – from £248,136 to £573,613 – in order to provide improvements for the locality. I’m not one to get all dewy-eyed over democracy but I’m definitely in favour of local spending on local priorities. Then again, I won’t be paying for it.
There were some wholesale changes in the council’s membership last May. Things decidedly became more partisan but at least issues get fully debated in open session.
There’s a school of thought that reckons a community councillor can actually have more visible impact on an area compared to your average County council back-bencher who mostly scrutinises what the people upstairs are doing.
I’m not entirely sure about that, but one thing we can agree about politics in Mumbles is that it’s rarely dull.