Where are the foundations?

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IT is now 60 years since Harold Macmillan took charge of housing in Winston Churchill’s post-war government, with an ambitious pledge to build 300,000 houses a year.

Churchill told him it was a gamble which would make or break his political career – and the populist target was achieved a year ahead of schedule.

Six decades on and for many families this Christmas the problem of housing shortages, particularly in rural areas, remains all too real, forcing many to live in unsuitable accommodation that can be many miles from familes or work places.

House prices in Yorkshire have risen faster than in any other part of England and almost four times faster than incomes in the last decade. It has made the prospect of home ownership more distant than ever, particularly in North Yorkshire where the average house price is £220,000 and yet the average salary is less than £20,000 a year.

The shortage of affordable housing is a modern-day scandal.

The continuing failure of lenders to advance capital and the refusal of developers to invest in affordable housing are among the obvious problems. In one development in York, plans had been agreed to build on a brownfield site in the city where 38 per cent of homes would be affordable. But now developers claim the scheme is no longer viable and want to go ahead without any affordable properties.

The blame must also fall on successive governments which have ignored a problem that will only worsen in future.

Coalition Ministers are backing local solutions to the problems – even though the scale of house-building required in coming years will undoubtedly require national action.

But communities must also come up with their own ideas. The example of council chiefs in Harrogate in promoting the conversion of disused farm buildings into new homes is certainly one that many other authorities could follow.

Housing chiefs in Kirklees unveiled plans this week for 450 new rented homes in a £90m private finance initiative project in 27 towns and villages in the area. But with housing waiting lists standing at 15,000 in the area, the scale of the problem will need many more innovative ideas in the years ahead.