New homes needed now

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THIS COUNTRY’S chronic shortage of housing, the legacy of successive governments ignoring a growing problem, is rapidly becoming a crisis.

THIS COUNTRY’S chronic shortage of housing, the legacy of successive governments ignoring a growing problem, is rapidly becoming a crisis.

When it came to power, the coalition Government did at least recognise the problem and had a host of solutions ready. Local authorities would be bullied and bribed into overcoming the objections of residents and making more and more space available for housing, with financial incentives to stuff the mouths of objectors.

The policy, however, has largely failed. Despite four years of threatening and cajoling, builders are still banking land rather than building on it, protesters 
are out in force protecting the countryside and the obvious alternative of brownfield land is largely viewed as too costly and troublesome to be worth developing. And even when developments are built, the prices are beyond what can be afforded by those most in need of a home.

The consequence is revealed in new figures compiled by the GMB union, which show almost a quarter of a million people across this region desperate to find a home, while average house prices in Yorkshire are now nearly five times average earnings.

The policy of making developments include some form of so-called affordable housing is easing this situation, but far too slowly for the simple reason that not enough development is taking place.

The shortage of homes is, in turn, keeping prices high and the only long-term solution to high prices is to increase vastly the speed of building and the supply of houses. But, for that to happen, brownfield land has to be made more attractive to builders, planning authorities have to sanction more building and residents have to realise that greenfield sites can be developed sensitively without concreting over the entire countryside.

Getting better

But still work to do on jobs front

THE FACT that Esther McVey had her role as Employment Minister upgraded to Cabinet level in David Cameron’s reshuffle indicates the emphasis that the Government wants to place on jobs in the run-up to the General Election.

It is also a sign that the Prime Minister is anxious to avoid any sign of complacency despite continued good news on the employment front.

According to the latest figures, a record-breaking 30 million people are now in work, an increase of more than a million over the past year, with unemployment falling to its lowest level since the end of 2009.

In normal circumstances, such a recovery would translate into growing popularity for any incumbent government.But the fact that the Conservatives seem unable to build any sort of poll lead indicates that these are far from being normal circumstances. The Prime Minister therefore knows that there is still much work to be done, not least in ensuring that every part of the country is benefiting from this recovery, particularly when wage growth remains sluggish.

It is true that, here in Yorkshire, unemployment is continuing to fall and now stands at 7.9 per cent. But to suggest, as Nick Clegg does, that the scar of the North-South divide has been healed through the Regional Growth Fund is premature to say the least, particularly when reports indicate that only a very small proportion of this fund has so far reached job-creation schemes.

The Government must ensure that more money gets through to those regions that suffered most in the recession and that it ends up in the hands of those who know best how to spend it. Yes, it has made a start, but it is only a start.

It’s your round

Rural pubs need more support

IT IS the sort of research that makes people envious of academics: an investigation of the role pubs play in promoting social wellbeing – and carried out in rural Ireland to boot!

But if all this sounds like nice work if you can get it, that is entirely the point. The country pub is an idyllic setting which should be at the heart of village life.

The very fact that the Irish pub is its country’s number one tourist attraction demonstrates its appeal. So why is the rural pub steadily losing custom? The answer, as usual, seems to be an increase in costs and regulations which make it easier for the pub to be undercut by off-licences, fuelling the demand for drinking alcohol at home.

Yet, as revealed in this study by York University and Newcastle Business School, this is a terrible waste of a valuable resource. Pubs play a crucial role in creating economic development, as well as community wellbeing, and they are in desperate need of support both from officialdom and ordinary customers.