John Lines then told us that fewer houses had been built under Labour than at any time since 1921, a figure that dates from a 2002 survey and relates to the building of all properties, not just local authority/social landlords, measured against population. That may even be questionable, as we only built 49,000 homes in 1946, compared to the average of 145,000 built during the Labour years in office, according to figures from the Department of Communities and Local Government.
As might be expected, the picture is rather more complicated than John Lines wants you to realise. On average since 1946, the private sector - beloved of the Conservative Party - has built around 125,000 homes a year, with a big boost in the 1960s. The real downshift in housebuilding happened during the 1980s, under Margaret Thatcher - equally beloved of the Conservative Party - when councils effectively stopped building houses. Up until 1979, local authorities built an average of 120,000 houses each year, not hugely out of pace with the private sector over the same period, but after Thatcher came to power and demanded the sale of council houses, the construction rate plummetted, to the point where fewer council houses have been built since 1986 than were built in 1977 alone.
By the way, John Lines is the only man in the country who actually believes that Thatcher wanted to reinvest the proceeds of those council house sales in new council house building:
When the homes were being sold, Margaret Thatcher had a vision that the money should be re-invested into public housing. It never actually worked out that way. Money was spent elsewhere.
But I digress.
I make no bones about it, Labour dropped the ball on this one for the past thirteen years - partly out of fear of deflating the housing market by increasing supply. We should have built more council properties and this was one of the major failings of our government. Despite their best efforts, social landlords have proved unable to pick up the slack - not helped by local authorities like John Lines' Birmingham, which have preferred to sell land to private developers rather than helping the housing associations build new affordable rented properties.
So what of the future? This government has promised to build more houses than the last, but as with many promises from the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, it may prove to be entirely worthless. The most recent drop, in the 2009/10 financial year, saw only 113,000 houses completed, the worst since 1923 (excluding the war years and 1946), according to the National Housing Federation ('scaremongerers' in the words of Cllr Lines). This was entirely due to a massive drop in private sector construction completions, no doubt aided by a new reluctance on the part of lenders to grant mortgages and demonstrating how the market - beloved of the Conservative Party - cannot be the sole solution to our nation's problems.
Following Tory NIMBY policy, regional targets for housebuilding have been scrapped, gardens have been redesignated greenfield land and housing density rules have also been removed. According to the Federation, these changes have already led to the scrapping of plans to build 160,000 homes and many more will be added to the list. The following local authorities have already announced reductions in the number of new houses planned for their areas:
Milton Keynes Central – 13,360 homesAdd to that an 80% cut in funding for affordable housing through government grants that helped Housing Associations build 50,000 houses last year, a cut likely to reduce new affordable home building to a trickle. More than that, these budget cuts will put the construction industry - already battered by the recession - onto its knees and could threaten 40,000 jobs out of the industry. This is butchery and economic stupidity on a grand scale by Osborne. Right now is the time to build, get people into homes, keep people in work and build the infrastructure for the future.
Luton/Central Bedfordshire – 10,650 homes
Horsham District Council – 6,888 homes
Exeter City Council – 3,000 homes
Bristol City Council – 9,560 homes
Torbay Council – 5,000 homes
Cotswold District Council – 900 homes
North Somerset Council – 10,750 homes
North Hertfordshire Council and Stevenage Borough Council – 9,200 homes.
Cllr Lines was negative about the performance of the last government in building new houses. On current showing, while inadequate for the demand, they look to be generous when we compare them with the policies of the current government, which seem to be designed to discourage home building by anybody. The crisis is set to get worse and Cllr Lines has no answers.