Dr Peter Hill, Parliament Street’s Director of Policy responds to Mark Littlewood writing in the Times this week

The opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect the views of others, or of Parliament Street.

On Monday morning I had the pleasure of reading Mark Littlewood’s article about Britain’s broken housing market.  I’m a huge fan of the IEA and the work they’ve done in defence of freedom and free markets over the years.  Indeed, at my very core are strong libertarian instincts.  Who can’t read Robert Nozick’s introduction to Anarchy, State and Utopia and be unmoved by his appeal to individual rights?

However, as an economist myself, and perhaps more importantly as a local Councillor, I know there are times when the state can be a force for good.  Market failure does occur and the state corrects; by providing education the state provides educated workers to the economy; through the NHS, the state provides healthy workers ready to add value to companies.  It’s difficult to deny the positive externalities arising from things like mass immunisation and literacy.  Therefore, I struggled with Mark’s article which in one breath blames “the broken housing market” but then lays responsibility at the foot of the planning system.

As a member of a Planning Committee myself I have seen local communities come together to push for development which is sustainable, close to infrastructure, and where communities actually want it.  Planning is a shining example of local democracy and accountability at work.  NIMBYism (not in my backyard), is rare.  Communities accept that their children will have to live somewhere.

Yes, there are issues with the housing market. Immigration has created unrelenting demand, especially in London and the south-east; developers are buying land, getting planning permission and sitting on it – a process known as land banking; developers have been caught colluding to artificially restrict supply and push up prices; there are skills shortages in the UK construction industry; finally, Britain’s aversion to high-rise living is encouraging urban sprawl.

There are REAL issues with the UK’s housing market.  Thankfully there are some REAL solutions out there, such as the LGAs recent proposal to allow Councils to charge Council tax to developers who sit on sites with planning permissions which aren’t built. Additional funding for FE colleges/construction apprenticeships would soon fix the skills shortages, and more could be done to address our cultural aversion to modern high-rise living by delivering high quality housing (using the Planning system!).  With the exception of increasing FE funding, these measures wouldn’t cost Philip Hammond a penny, but would yield a significant revenue stream to local authorities who are struggling to deliver the services that voters want.

In conclusion, we need to look beyond anti-statist dogmatism and find real solutions which can deliver.  The question shouldn’t be more or less “state”, but about finding better policy solutions which can still deliver more for less.

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