Now that the summer is finally rolling in and we are looking forward to a season of fun and festivities – the phrase “Build Back Better” has been on every politician’s lips. It’s another three-word all-inclusive catchy slogan designed to make voters feel like the time for rebuilding and regrowing has finally come. “Build Back Better” is a classic umbrella term used to capture all policy and spending changes planned by the Conservative Government in the next few months. The phrase is so appealing that it’s traveled across Britain, to the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and beyond to the shores to America.
To West Midlands Mayor Andy Street “Build Back Better” means a restart of his Housing Plan. Street proudly states that since 2018 his team has delivered on over 33,000 homes and by 2031, he aims to build more than 215,000 new homes. At first glance, this number seems impressive. However, a little context is useful. Currently, there are just under 3 million people that call the West Midlands home and in the next ten years that number is projected to consistently increase over the next ten years. Questions over how the West Midlands can deal with that are yet to be answered by Andy Street’s team.
Of the new homes that Andy Street has built in the past year – only 15% were defined by central government as “affordable” and 97% were not for social renting. In the real world that means most young people, frontline workers and key worker heroes have no real chance of getting on the housing ladder. The dream of owning your own home and providing true stability for your family is far from real in the West Midlands.
While the housing crisis in the West Midlands leaves a lot to be desired – compared to other areas of the UK Andy Street’s record looks like one of action. In Chesham and Amersham, Sarah Green MP strolled to victory last month by harnessing the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) and BANANA (Build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything) movements. It’s a well tested short term political tactic – oppose building anything at a local level to keep the house prices up and the middle class constituents onside whilst crying out at the lack of housing nationally to gain more working class, city dwelling and youth votes. It is, however, a strategy with a time limit. Britain’s Housing Crisis ticks on, with greater and greater urgency, a fact that Generation Rent knows only too well.
If the voters hope for change from Labour – they might have another thing coming. When running for Labour leader in 2020, Keir Starmer’s original ten pledges didn’t mention housing and a recent graphic by the Official Labour Twitter account seems to blame developers for building houses. Activists cannot look to the Shadow Cabinet for support either, as 9 of the 17 Labour MP’s who are landlords sit in the Shadow Cabinet – most notably the current Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, Lucy Powell. With one in four Tory MP’s claiming to be “Private Landlords”, a silent but deadly parliamentary majority has been formed to stop the house building revolution we all desperately need.
Building for the rich won’t work – we’ve tried it before. Across London an estimated £15 billion worth of property sits empty with an estimated 10,000 people sleeping rough and an unknown number are sofa-surfing. If we truly want to “Build Back Better” we must throw out the planning application system and push forward with a renter revolution. Similar to the post war housing strategy of the 1950’s we must now push for urgency and massive action to end this crisis. If “Build Back Better” is to mean anything, it must be the slogan of building genuinely affordable homes across the UK that are truly secure for all.