The green agenda
First Published 04 September 2016
Expand social house building, scrap right to buy, launch a big retro-fitting project and regulate private renting. Caroline Lucas sets out the Green Party’s housing plans.
The Green Party believes an expanded social housing programme should be a key element of the economic package needed to help the UK out of the recession. Most importantly, more new council and housing association homes would put a roof over the heads of many of the five million people the Local Government Association estimates will be on council housing waiting lists by 2017. And, yes, we do want to see all councils building homes again.
Countless studies have shown that building homes is the quickest way to put people back to work, and the government gets back at least 60p of every pound spent in taxes and insurance paid, benefits unpaid and VAT paid on household and white goods.
As you might expect, Greens believe all new homes -public and private -should be built to the highest environmental standards, which does not necessarily mean spending a small fortune on renewables. However, our energy future is certainly in renewables rather than dirty coal and expensive and potentially dangerous nuclear fuel, and we are keen to see the new generation of offshore wind farms, for example, built as quickly as possible.
We also believe the government is not addressing the task of retrofitting existing homes with any real conviction. The case for retrofit is overwhelming. Housing accounts for about 25 per cent of all the CO2 produced in the UK. We have the technology to stop it, and a national retrofit programme would create thousands of jobs, reduce fuel poverty, cut the UK carbon footprint and reduce our dependency on volatile energy-exporting nations. It would also improve the health and well-being of residents and take pressure off the NHS.
How would Greens pay for this massive programme? To start with, we would scrap the replacement of Trident, which will cost a massive £76 billion, if the cost of maintaining the nuclear warheads over their 30-year life is taken into account. The money saved would pay for an awful lot of peaceful insulation, new boilers, solar panels and smart meters.
Greens would also end the sale of council houses, which in many communities are irreplaceable, not least because of land shortages. Instead we would introduce long-term loans to first-time buyers in all tenures on the lines of the system used so successfully by French governments to help people on to the property ladder.
However, we do not share the other parties’ obsession with home ownership, and we believe regulation of the private rented sector is overdue to push out the bad landlords and improve the appalling conditions still found, particularly, in many HMOs and bed-sits.
More support should be given to people who want to set up housing co-ops and community land trusts, and we look forward to the findings of the Commission on Co-operative and Mutual Housing later this year. We hope, among other things, the report will encourage more local authorities to follow the example set by Redditch borough council and the Accord housing association group. They have completed several co-operative schemes, including a £3 million low carbon scheme opened in June designed with the help of residents.
The involvement of residents in the design and management of their homes is critical to the success of social housing. Too many local authorities and housing associations still pay lip service to participation. 25 per cent of housing association tenants are dissatisfied with their landlords, according to the Tenant Services Authority’s national conversation with tenants and residents. The good associations, like the Poplar HARCA where tenants run their own estates, community centres and services, are very good indeed. The mediocre have a lot of catching up to do in both housing associations and local authorities.
Finally, we believe housing should be a gateway into employment and training, better health and community cohesion. We applaud the community and neighbourhood initiatives of housing associations and local authorities working with residents to deal with financial exclusion, promote employment and training, strengthen community safety and introduce environmental improvements.
A great many social housing tenants survive on low incomes on long-neglected estates. We desperately need a bigger building programme, but we also need to make the most of what we have got. The decent homes standard has improved the quality of a great deal of social housing. We must now move onto retrofitting homes and turning estates into places that people want to come to.
Dr Caroline Lucas MEP is leader of the Green Party.