Spending cut stampede misses house building shortfall signal

The current political obsession with public spending cuts all too wilfully ignores the elephant in the room.

If there is one statistic that should concentrate policy-makers' minds in the coming months, it is that the backlog in housing supply is now likely to approach one million by the end of next year.

A discussion paper on housing supply in this cold climate for the Smith Institute, the Town and Country Planning Association and PricewaterhouseCoopers points out that today's 80-year low in house building is going to result in one hell of a hangover. Waiting lists and overcrowding will reach record levels. Prices will rise, while the divide between the haves and have-nots will continue to widen. Housing shortages eventually lead to hamstrung economies and public services.

The government has presided over a disaster. After 12 years in power, it cannot point the finger anywhere else. Yet amid this shambles, the letter from shadow communities secretary Caroline Spelman urging local authorities to delay major schemes until after the general election is particularly irresponsible. Although it is true that the nation's books need balancing, a short-term preoccupation with spending cuts ignores the role that development plays in driving the economy.

Certain politicians would seem to prefer a lost generation languishing on the dole, storing up all kinds of costly social problems. It's called knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing, and it costs a lot more in the long run. The discussion paper notes that changes to strategic planning, coupled with the collapse of political will to plan for the number of homes needed, is adding to uncertainty in some cases, creating confusion in others and generally slowing down decision-making.

So whoever forms the next government, what is the betting that another series of proposals will be made for reforming the planning system? With an energy crunch on the horizon, there are mumblings behind the scenes about further changes even before the latest reforms have bedded down. That is not the answer to national needs.

Huw Morris, editor.

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