By Dan McCurry
The policy to increase the stock of social housing is precious to all Labour activists since we’ve seen the way in which housing costs have deprived communities not just of sons and daughters but of postmen, nurses and teachers. If you can’t be housed at reasonable costs and reasonable conditions, you can’t take part in the community. It has always mattered and matters now in new ways: while the economic crisis continues, the dogged pursuit of a policy to make life better for some has transformed into a log-jam that is currently destroying the lives of the many. It’s time to repeal Section 109 of The Town and Country Planning Act so that more homes can be built immediatley for all the people that need them.
In my work as a legal executive, I defend suspects in police stations. I come into daily contact with the coalface of social ill; whether because of drugs, mental health, and those who are just pure evil. But recently I’ve had a new community of clients. Petty thieving, pub fights and road rage incidents from people of all ages who have never come to the attention of the police before; never been arrested, never been fingerprinted, DNAd and photographed. The reason I call them a community of clients is because they all have something in common; their profession. Time after time it’s Plumber, Bricklayer, Carpenter and Electrician. This country’s not broke, but it’s hurting, and it’s hurting bad.
We, the Labour Party, are obsessed with ourselves. We are obsessed with the next general election and our chances of winning; it’s our constant conversation. But this obsession is our enemy. We didn’t come into the Labour party because we are concerned with ourselves, we came into the Labour party because we were concerned with the ordinary people of this country whose lives are shaped by the decisions of government and whose prosperity and pursuit of happiness are hampered if government’s decisions are wrong.
It’s time to stop worrying about House of Lords irregularities and election wins. Time to put things into perspective; our jobs aren’t important, their jobs are. Our dreams of Utopia are nothing compared with their basic need for a day’s wage for a day’s work, and our long-term desire to increase the stock of social housing needs to be put in perspective with their need to see their families not torn apart, their firms not going to the wall, their homes not being repossessed and their highly-skilled hands not idly in their pockets, head bowed down in the humiliation of the unemployment line.
Across the country, upon tens of thousands of vacated building sites, all factors of house-building production are in place except one. They have the sites, they have the plans and permissions, they have all the skilled labour and plant for hire, but while house prices continue to fall, they do not have the finance because finance will never be forthcoming without a sound business plan and for them, a sound business plan cannot exist while house prices are falling. The temporary repeal of Section 109, with a clear dead-line as an incentive to swiftly begin works, could increase operating margins by as much as 30%, mitigating the falling market and turning the flawed business plan into the exciting opportunity. We would not get social housing, but we would get workers into work, architects to their drawing boards, plant-hire companies back into life and circulation back into a stagnating economy.
Today we have a Prime Minister better qualified than any to build global institutions for a global economy, but with 10p fresh in his experience, we also have a man potentially over-sensitive to the backlash of grass-roots activists. That’s why I call upon those activists to make this argument a petition through the comments column below and through emergency motions before constituency GCs. We must not let our vision of social housing stand in the way of our vision of a fair and prosperous society. We must, for a period, free house-builders from the obligation of Section 109.