MICHAEL GOVE: Britain needs beautiful homes and communities

MICHAEL GOVE: Britain needs beautiful homes and communities. That’s why I’ll clamp down on developers of soulless dormitories

In the 1980s Ronnie Corbett starred in a brilliant sitcom called Sorry. He played a 41-year-old, Timothy, who was still living with his parents.

But what was a comedy in the early 1980s has become a documentary now. A tragedy, even.

Because more and more young people, and more and more not-so-young-at-all people, are still living with their parents.

Michael Gove, pictured last week, writes that ‘the consequences of this decline in home ownership among younger people are bleak’

Not because they want to. But because they cannot do what so many of us who grew up in the 1980s, and before, have done. They cannot buy their own home.

The figures are stark. In 1989 the majority of young families owned their own home. 

In 1995 nearly two-thirds of people aged between 25 and 34, and on average incomes, owned their own home. Today just around a quarter of people in the same position are homeowners.

And the consequences of this decline in home ownership among younger people are bleak.

Mr Gove says that ‘there has been entirely understandable resistance to new development in many communities’ (stock photo used)

The receding prospect of home ownership has meant young people stuck in the family home or in the private rented sector, unable to put down roots in a place they love with the people they love.

It is the most natural of instincts to want to belong, to have a stake in your community, to have a place you can call your own.

Conservatives have always understood this. It was why great Conservative prime ministers in the past from Winston Churchill through Harold Macmillan to Margaret Thatcher championed – and extended – home ownership.

So we need to repair the broken property ladder and fix our dysfunctional housing market. But we need first to understand why we face the problems we do.

There are three, interlinked, challenges we need to solve. We need to make access to finance for ownership easier, we need to look at the way the benefits system works to support home ownership, and we need the right homes in the right places to help a new generation live in communities they can love.

Getting more young people on the housing ladder depends, firstly, on improving their ability to get mortgages.

Many people currently renting pay more to their landlord each month than they would need to pay to service a mortgage on the same property.

More than half of those in the private rented sector could currently afford the repayment costs on a mortgage, but just three per cent have the savings necessary to put together a deposit and meet the lender’s requirements for a typical first-time buyer’s property.

We are looking closely at what more can now be done to help.

We have to be careful, of course, at a time when inflation, interest rates and other economic headwinds need to be managed.

‘Many new developments have not been accompanied by the investment in infrastructure required alongside,’ Mr Gove writes. Stock photo used

But other countries facing similar problems make access to mortgage finance easier and so can we.

We can also help those currently renting to keep, and save, more of their own income.

We are bringing in laws to reform the private rented sector to help tenants save – including stopping the no-fault evictions which add to renters’ costs.

We are also looking to see how we can increase the number of homes available for social rent – new council houses – so people can build up their savings in stable circumstances and move on to home ownership.

And we are also exploring how more people in social housing can buy their own homes in a way which helps them on to the property ladder while also generating the cash for new housing for more socially rented homes in turn.

Another barrier to home ownership is the way the benefits system currently works. 

We quite rightly support people with their rent through benefits if they face hard times.

But we don’t extend similar support to people on the same incomes if they have a mortgage.

Reforming the welfare system always requires care – but this Government is committed to trying to use every lever we can to support home ownership and the wider benefits it brings.

As well as looking at mortgage finance, helping tenants to save, creating more homes for social rent and extending the right to buy we also need to provide more new homes for people to own.

Mr Gove says: ‘Getting more young people on the housing ladder depends, firstly, on improving their ability to get mortgages’ (stock photo used)

We want 300,000 new homes every year. That ambition remains undimmed.

But we also want to ensure we do much more than just build homes, we want to enhance existing communities and create new places of which we can all be proud.

There has been entirely understandable resistance to new development in many communities for reasons with which I completely sympathise.

Too many new homes have been ugly, shoddily constructed and of poor quality. Identikit creations plonked down without regard to the shape and character of existing communities.

Many new developments have not been accompanied by the investment in infrastructure required alongside.

So schools, GP surgeries and roads have become increasingly under pressure and existing residents’ quality of life suffers.

Local communities who have worked hard to develop plans for new homes in sympathy with existing development have had their decisions overturned by distant bureaucrats, undermining faith in local democratic decision-making.

Pictured: homes in the Cotswolds. Mr Gove says that ‘beautiful homes in the right setting – whether elegant terraces in major cities, limestone cottages in the Cotswolds…lift the heart’

Precious environmental protections, such as the green belt, have been eroded, and investment in enhancing parks, restoring wildlife and enhancing natural beauty has been sidelined.

And all of this has meant that instead of creating and enhancing neighbourhoods we have seen dormitories planted in the wrong place in the wrong way.

That is why we are taking a wholly new approach to home building.

We are prioritising beauty. I am an unashamed romantic about our country. Beautiful homes in the right setting – whether elegant terraces in major cities, limestone cottages in the Cotswolds, the slate and sandstone houses of Cumbria or handsome brick villas in the Midlands – lift the heart.

So we are giving local communities the ability to prescribe the design of new homes, and I will use my powers to enforce high aesthetic standards on new developments.

Some of our big housebuilders, used to imposing their wishes on communities, may baulk.

But I will take them on, as I have over the building safety crisis. I will support smaller, more local house builders which have been squeezed out of the market in the past few years.

And I will also ensure that more of the profits they make from getting planning permission are shared with local people to invest in their communities. That will mean cash not just for schools, doctors and roads but investment in green space, urban parks, trees and areas set aside for wildlife.

I will also ensure democratic control over new development.

We’ll take on developers who landbank, who secure planning permissions but don’t build those homes because they are gaming both the land market and the planning system.

Communities that make and maintain local plans in keeping with local needs and which respect environmental constraints will be protected from speculative development.

The Government will also ensure not just that existing environmental protections remain, but we will enhance nature – greening the greenbelt with space set aside for nature.

And we will ensure the planning system prioritises neighbourhood wishes and sympathetic development by involving local people more intimately in choices about how their communities grow.

These five principles – Beauty, Infrastructure, Democratic control, Environmental enhancement and Neighbourhood protection – are at the heart of our new approach to housing.

And they can ensure that we have the right homes in the right places where people welcome them. Local people will be partners in making the places they love better and more beautiful, not pawns in a speculative game.

Will these reforms be easy? I’m under no illusions. Taking on vested interests never is.

But I don’t want this Government to be in a position where the only thing we can say to a generation locked out of home ownership and communities resentful at insensitive and unsympathetic development is, ‘Sorry’.

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