In a blatant bit of electioneering, Eric Pickles and Brandon Lewis have this week announced new guidance to reinforce the protection afforded to Green Belt land. I say new guidance; what I really mean is that they haven’t said anything new at all, or certainly nothing that hasn’t been self-evident for the best part of a year, being that housing need is not going to win a planning permission this side of the General Election – at least where the Secretary of State is concerned.
I won’t be the only one marvelling at the black humour of the champion of Localism issuing diktats from Whitehall to local authorities on how to write their development plans and determine planning applications. They can do whatever they like, just as long as it absolutely meets the objectives of the Conservative party manifesto for the foreseeable future. Presumably, once the Election is out of the way, we can recover a semblance of common sense – albeit how much blood is left on the carpet from upturned local plans and perfectly good residential development proposals refused for political reasons, remains to be seen.
So we can look forward to an ever increasing simmering of house prices in London and the South East in particular, pushing more and more properties to the precipice of the Mansion Tax threshold, as proposed by the other main parties.
It’s not my intention to get into a political debate about Mansion Tax – I’m simply being philosophical. Successive Governments make weak decisions about addressing housing need. The demand on the limited stock of accommodation grows exponentially. The solution? Penalise the owners of the limited supply of housing.
Labour and Liberals love to espouse the unjustness of the owner of a £50m property paying the same Council tax as the owner of a £500,000 property, but they are in the minority. The reality is that there are now an awful lot of people in London and the South East that are puzzled to find their main asset worth in excess of £1m, which has hurtled in value over the last five or ten years, and so, if supply doesn’t increase dramatically, could find themselves lumbered with a Mansion Tax (which is a national tax of course – not local) within the lifetime of the next Government. They can’t control the huge boom in population in London. They haven’t been offered a national plan to redress the imbalance of London and the South East. They don’t dictate housing delivery. The don’t devise inward investment strategies for other parts of the country which might attract jobs, and therefore population dispersal to other regions.
This whole issue seems a million miles away from the progressive debate that took place during the Scottish referendum, where all sectors of the community – not just Scottish – felt empowered to have their say (and obviously in the case of those eligible, to vote in record numbers). A Mansion Tax is a sticking plaster over a gaping wound that would penalise, in the main, the fortunate but silent majority who now find themselves owning homes, the value of which they could never have dreamt of in their wildest dreams, could certainly never afford to buy now, and do not have cash piles stashed away to pay an arbitrary tax. The ‘have-nots’ have rapidly decreasing prospects of getting on the housing ladder, and are being falsely led into resenting the ‘haves’, when their outrage should be focused on the inability of the main parties to work together to de-politicise the housing crisis.
The bleak reality is that no party is proposing any kind of solution. Its utterly depressing.