The foundations are laid – now let’s get building, by Nick Mann
Tuesday 1st October 2013, 5:00PM BST.
THERE was a challenge laid down in the States last week.
And it is one that must be picked up and run with.
The lack of affordable housing remains on the minds of deputies, but as yet no one has taken hold of the baton and attempted to solve the problem.
From the chief minister down, if that is the right phraseology given that all deputies are created equal – some more equal than others – members have expressed their concerns about this issue.
There appears to be impetus to act, if only enough members can coalesce around making it happen.
It was Deputy Barry Brehaut who first raised affordable and social housing as an issue last week and Deputy Matt Fallaize who laid down the challenge for someone to bring a requete on the issue – something he would support.
Later Housing minister Dave Jones joined in, talking of standing shoulder to shoulder with those who want to act.
The problems at the moment broadly centre around a few issues. The first is the fact this States has broadly exhausted all the land it owns that was open to build houses on, save the swamp that is Belgrave Vinery.
So it now needs either to free up more sites it owns – something to which the brakes have been applied because of the moves against the Strategic Asset Management Plan – or work with the private sector.
This links us nicely into the next problem, which centres around planning, and more crucially turning planning permission into houses.
Guernsey has a target of building 300 new homes per year, but the latest housing needs survey revealed that this was not being met – for example, in 2011 the net growth was 230 new dwellings.
The survey suggests now
that 451 new homes need to be built every year – not necessarily new build, they could be conversions or splitting property, for example.
Environment is granting enough planning permits, but those behind the developing are just not going to the next stage of putting a spade in the ground.
There could be a myriad of reasons for that, but chief among them maybe the current economic situation and the stuttering housing market.
Returns on investments will not be as good as they once were – who wants to build and sell into the bottom of the market?
The housing market needs a shot in the arm to get moving again.
It is hard to find anyone who cannot relate a story about first-time buyers struggling to get on the property ladder and, of course, one of the issues may just be the lack of properties being vacated on the bottom rung because people are not trading up because of the economy.
This is not just a problem afflicting Guernsey – it was one of the key messages that came out of the Labour Party conference last week and now the Conservatives this week.
While the right-wing press accused Labour of Zimbabwean-style land grabbing with one of its solutions, it has at least come up with something.
The proposals included charging landowners escalating fees for sitting on land with planning permission.
It also spoke about increased powers to compulsorily purchase land and the use of development corporations to get houses built.
So how far-fetched are these solutions in a local context?
Well, already there has been talk about using higher levels of TRP on derelict vinery sites to encourage them to be cleared or used.
The States also underwrites all the borrowing of the Guernsey Housing Association as well as giving up land to it.
In May 2010, the States scrapped the homes loan scheme which was designed to help first-time buyers because at the time, it said, there were better commercial deals.
Contrast this with Jersey.
Earlier this year it launched a loan scheme to help first-time buyers which offered a States loan big enough to cover the majority of a deposit, with the money paid back over 20 years.
The Conservatives began this week by saying that a scheme in the UK known as Help to Buy, allowing people to take out 95% mortgages, will be launched next week, three months earlier than had been planned.
Prime Minister David Cameron dismissed concerns it would fuel a boom in housing prices.
To use a well-worn phrase, there are plenty of tools in the box if only deputies wanted to open it.
The evidence has been spelled out again and again by Housing’s survey of need.
It was an issue at election time, it remains an issue now but there are no signs as yet of hard and fast action to do something about it.