Rob Perrins: Don't write housing out of the election header

Don't write housing out of the election

Rob Perrins, Managing Director of the Berkeley Group

We have got a full-blown housing crisis in the UK. But as the election campaign kicks off, all the attention so far has focused on deficit reduction and the NHS.

Clearly, some party strategists think house-building is too contentious. They assume that most people who vote already own a home and don't want any more near them.

The truth is housing is a top issue for the wider electorate. Home-owners also have children and those young people are shut out of the market.

There is also a great case for house-building that politicians can positively embrace.

New homes don't just provide people with shelter. They boost the economy and transform people's quality of life.

House-building helped pulled us out of recession in 2013. It has the fourth highest gross output multiplier of any industry in the UK. In plain English, that means building sites across Britain generate a lot of the jobs, tax and spending that drives our economy. A thriving housing market gives us the feel-good factor.

Just as important, house-building has a positive effect on communities. Good new development improves people's lives.

Schools, parks and roads are all built with funding from new development. Berkeley is building five schools at the moment, as well as nearly 4,000 new homes. Just before Christmas we completed only the second new road to be built in West Sussex this century. The lesson is, if you want new amenities, vote for housing, because it's not going to be delivered through public funding.

You can also measure people's happiness in newly built homes. The Government started measuring national wellbeing in 2011 and we use the same questions developed by the Office for National Statistics on many developments. The evidence suggests that life satisfaction and the sense of community is actually higher on good new development.

Our problem as an industry is that what people have seen historically of modern housing isn't great. Much of it lacked character and a sense of place. This was the result of misguided planning rules and a reluctance to invest in design. Both have now changed but it's our job to build better places, get the public on side and give councils the confidence to show some leadership.

The danger right now with an election is that the country gets caught in a wave of uncertainty and paralysis. The UK economy is in fact well placed in many respects: low inflation, falling unemployment and endless creative talent.

I think the Government and Bank of England have done almost everything required to create a positive platform for housebuilding, except giving us stability on taxation. We can no longer blame monetary policy and you will rarely find better conditions for buying a home.

But growth isn't inevitable. We have to get out there and make things happen. This mindset applies to all areas of business and society. Whatever sector you work in, we have to keep making decisions and getting things done.

The sense of stagnation gripping the Eurozone shows what happens otherwise. Deflation takes hold and the individuals or companies with any ambition move out. That's why we have 400,000 French people living here.

So in the coming weeks, amid all the bitterness of a tight election fight, let's show some courage and inject real pace into the business of building more homes. People in this country need somewhere good to live. They need quicker decisions from councils and a planning system that actively helps to create beautiful places where people want to live.

It's crazy that we give more land in Britain to golf courses than housing. The only country in Europe to build fewer homes per head of population is Bulgaria. That cannot be right.

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