Lib Dems’ homes pledge fightback

Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats. David Jones/PA Wire
Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats. David Jones/PA Wire
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A SOCIAL HOUSING boom is what the country needs to give security and a long term future to the 1.6m currently on waiting lists.

The pledge from the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, is part of a raft of policies unveiled by his party today to tackle the national housing crisis.

Alongside a rapid increase in social and affordable homes, he said a new Housing Investment Bank, opposing the Conservatives forced sell-off of housing association and lifting the cap on councils so they can borrow more to get building should be his party’s number one priority.

He will say in his key address to conference in Bournemouth today: “Communities up and down this country have spent 25 years building housing association homes, picking up the pieces of Mrs Thatcher’s destruction of council housing, and we will not allow David Cameron to destroy that work too.

“Access to affordable housing affects us all because it is the entry ticket to society, to security and stability , to work, health and community.”

Developers should be banned from advertising projects to customers overseas before people in the UK, to try and put an end to foreign investors flooding housing markets.

Nick Clegg’s ‘garden cities’ plan announced during Coalition should be expanded too with an additional five new communities across the country to add to the five they suggested between Oxford and Cambridge last year.

Referencing the Ken Loach film ‘Cathy Come Home’ - which tells the story of a family breaking apart due to poor housing, and being evicted - Tim Farron is set to tell party conference how the message has stayed with him throughout his political career.

He said: “Cathy Come Home lit a spark in me - it made me angry, it energised me. It made me want to get up and get involved.”

His vision of a Government backed Housing Investment Bank would simplify the allocation of public funds and create the scale needed to draw in private investment. It would provide the capital needed to fund housing building and improve access to finance for social housing providers through traditional capital grants, soft loans and equity investment.

As Leeds City Council opened its consultation into building 66,000 homes by 2028 across 11 areas in Leeds. Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West, Greg Mulholland, said prioritising social housing should not be seen as an old fashioned way of approaching the shortage.

He said: “In Leeds as a whole there’s areas crying out for more affordable housing. It’s certainly not a socialist idea, it makes sense to invest in housing and infrastructure. We should know full well that if we invest in social and affordable housing we will recoup the money and it’s a sensible investment for the future.”

Giving councils powers to reject developer proposals for homes when the surrounding infrastructure clearly cannot cope, should also become part of planning law, he said, so that the much needed new homes are built in the right places.

“In the North of my constituency we have a shortage of primary school places but that kind of information is not reflected in the planning system,” he said.

Councils currently have the ability to borrow to build homes however the Liberal Democrats believe the cap should be lifted to allow more ambitious projects to get underway, despite it being introduced in 2012 when they were in Coalition.

It’s estimated that scrapping the cap could free up to £7bn of extra borrowing,