Michael Gove: Britain needs beautiful homes and communities


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

But what was a comedy in the early ’80s is now a documentary. Rather, it is a tragedy.

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

Michael Gove, pictured last week, wrote that “the consequences of this decline in home ownership among young people are bleak.”

Not because they want to. But because they can’t do what many of us who grew up in the ’80s and earlier did. They cannot buy their homes.

The numbers are stark. In 1989, the majority of young families owned their own homes.

In 1995, nearly two-thirds of people aged 25-34, on average, owned their own home. Today, nearly a quarter of people in the same situation are homeowners.

The consequences of this decline in home ownership among young people are bleak.

Mr. Goff says that “there has been a well-understood resistance to the new development in many societies” (stock image used)

The declining potential for home ownership has left young people stuck in the family home or in the private rental sector, unable to take root in a place they love with the people they love.

It is natural to want to belong, to have a stake in your community, to have a place that you can call yourself.

Conservatives have always understood this. That is why the great Conservative prime ministers of the past from Winston Churchill to Harold Macmillan to Margaret Thatcher championed – and expanded – home ownership.

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

There are three interrelated challenges that we need to solve. We need to make it easier to access finance to own, 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 up the housing ladder depends, first, on improving their ability to obtain mortgages.

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

More than half of those working in the private rental sector can currently afford to pay off a mortgage, but only three percent have the savings needed to accumulate a deposit and meet a lender’s requirements for a typical first-time buyer’s property.

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

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

Goff writes: “Many of the new developments have not been accompanied by investment in the required infrastructure along with.” Stock photos used

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

We can also help those who are currently renting to retain and save more of their income.

We are introducing private rental sector reform laws to help renters save – including stopping no-fault evictions that increase renters’ costs.

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

We are also exploring how more people in social housing can buy their own homes in a way that helps them move up the real estate ladder while also generating new housing cash for more socially rented homes in turn.

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

We rightly support people with their rents through benefits if they are going through tough times.

But we do not offer similar support to people with the same income if they have a mortgage.

Welfare reform has always required care – but this government is committed to trying to use every lever possible to support home ownership and the broader benefits it brings.

In addition to looking at mortgage financing, helping renters save, creating more homes for social rent and expanding the right to buy, we also need to make more new homes available for people to own.

“Attracting more young people to the housing ladder depends, first, on improving their ability to obtain mortgages,” says Mr. Goff. (Stock image used)

We want 300,000 new homes every year. This ambition was not affected.

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

There has been quite understandable resistance to the new development in many societies for reasons that I fully sympathize with.

Too many new homes were ugly, poorly constructed and of poor quality. Identikit creations regressed without regard to the form and characteristics of existing societies.

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

Therefore schools, GP surgeries and roads are under increasing pressure and the quality of life of the current population is affected.

Local communities that worked hard to develop plans to build new homes in sympathy with existing development had their decisions overturned by remote bureaucrats, undermining confidence in local democratic decision-making.

Pictured: Houses in the Cotswolds. Mr. Goff says that ‘beautiful homes are in the right place–whether elegant terraces in the big towns, or limestone cottages in the Cotswolds…

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

All of this means that instead of creating and improving neighborhoods, we’ve seen dormitories planted in the wrong place and in the wrong way.

This is why we are taking a whole new approach to home building.

We prioritize beauty. I am unabashedly romantic about our country. Beautiful homes in the right place – whether it’s elegant terraces in the big cities, limestone cottages in the Cotswolds, sandstone homes in Cumbria or beautiful brick villas in the Midlands – lift the heart.

So we give communities the power to prescribe the design of new homes, and I will use my powers to impose high aesthetic standards on new developments.

Some of our top home builders, who are used to imposing their desires on communities, may fall short.

But I will accept them, as I did in the building safety crisis. I will support more of the smaller local home builders that have been taken off the market in the past few years.

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. This means cash not only for schools, doctors and roads but also investing in green spaces, urban parks, trees and areas designated for wildlife.

I will also ensure democratic control of the new development.

We will deal with developers who work in land banks, who secure planning permissions but don’t build those homes because they practice both the land market and the planning system.

Communities that develop and maintain local plans in line with local needs and that respect environmental constraints will be protected from imaginary development.

The government will also not guarantee the survival of the current environmental protection, but we will work to strengthen nature – greening the greenbelt while allocating space for nature.

We will ensure that the planning system prioritizes neighborhood desires and empathetic development by closely involving local residents in choices about how their communities will grow.

These five principles – beauty, infrastructure, democratic control, environmental promotion and neighborhood protection – are at the core of our new approach to housing.

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

Will these fixes be easy? I am not under illusions. Taking special interests is never the case.

But I don’t want this government to be in a situation where the only thing we can say to a generation deprived of home ownership and communities resentful of insensitive and unsympathetic development is, “Sorry.”

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