So yet another party conference season ends with nothing of substance coming out of it, not, that is, if you discount the hoary old chestnuts of rent controls, Help to Buy and plans to cover the land in new-builds – no matter whether they are anywhere near where anyone wants to live.
It was all the same tired old talk from a political “elite” that has produced 15 housing ministers in 20 years – and not one of them of cabinet rank.
And as the renowned Kate Barker, she of the much respected 2004 report, points out, these housing wunderkind have spent the last 13 years trotting out her statistics that were pertinent then and can only be out of date and pertinence now as we near the end of yet another decade of crises in housing.
No policy has emerged to address the problems of consumer lending and corporate funding, unless you count unnecessary financial regulation.
No policy has been suggested about desirable ratios of home ownership, private renting and social housing, except where votes might be garnered.
Nothing workable has been mooted about responsibility for planning at local, regional and national levels.
All of these, and more, are needed to maintain mobility of labour, put housing where it is wanted, and stimulate the economy.
To solve these problems and to speak truth to the electorate, the country needs a radical shake-up in policies and implementation to cover the multitude of issues involved in housing stock, tenures, geographical areas of need, infrastructure and finance.
To begin, there should be a ministry of housing under the control of a Secretary of State, thus automatically of cabinet rank.
It beggars belief that there should be ministers with far less important portfolios who have cabinet seats, and yet there is no ministry of housing.
Core staff could come in part from the forgotten housing department in that other running joke of a ministry, the Department of Communities and Local Government.
Further staff could be recruited for their specialities – economics, employment, housing benefit, etc, from ministries across Whitehall.
To balance this fledgling ministry and to prevent it from going down the same old potholed dirt track, an all-embracing property industry body would need to be formed along the lines of the CBI.
It needn’t be big but its people must be respected. This organisation would identify the problems and propose the solutions without fear or favour, political interest or greed.
Formed from the full spectrum of expertise across the industry, a Confederation of British Housing could do the job, provide the information and research to help shape State policy and inform the public by speaking for the whole spectrum of issues with one voice.
Its board would be drawn from developers, housing associations, local government, housing charities, think tanks from left and right, and the professional bodies for agents and surveyors.
This board need be no more than nine strong, but with its composition so wide-ranging it would provide its own checks and balances against vested interests. It would be supported by a small but excellent secretariat, be supportive of the fledgling ministry of housing and, above all, be trusted by the media and the public.
To gain that trust, it would speak with reason and authority on the need for more housing and of what type; stand out for the benefits of regeneration; open up the debate over the real demand for owner-occupation as against the perceptions of political agendas; recommend tax structures and incentives; drive for a mix of rented and social housing; discuss openly the benefits of subsidising either the individual or the housing stock; and explain the infrastructure requirements from roads to hospitals and schools before any grandiose policies are announced.
A big remit. But the skills and expertise are already out there. They just need to be channelled through a Confederation of British Housing.
A Ministry of Housing would be nice too.
* Malcolm Harrison was a communications specialist across the property industry for many years