Political column – 27th Sept 2023

Posted on: 25th September 2023

Tackling the housing emergency

For too long, the UK planning system has been fuelled by greed, not by need.

The core of its failure has been handing responsibility for the delivery of the homes we need to speculators primarily interested in filling their boots. That’s why I’m pleased that, at it’s recent conference, the Liberal Democrats promoted our policy which puts need before greed.

I’ve been pressing my Parliamentary colleagues to build social homes, scrap failed housebuilding targets and control the proliferation of holiday homes. Cornwall exemplifies the failure of the housebuilding targets policy. Nearly trebled its housing stock in the last sixty years – one of the fastest growing places in the UK – yet the housing problems of locals have got worse.

Targets should be set: 1. to meet need, not greed; 2. to put first homes before second homes; and 3. to reward good landlords who provide security of tenure, decent home standards, affordable rents to their tenants.
I helped to draft the policy. These are vitally important changes. The thousands of local families in desperate housing need, in insecurity and in rent poverty deserve to be made the priority. Not speculators who exploit the current system which operates to the detriment of those in need.

Greenwash washed off

I’m sure that, like me, you will already have seen through the synthetic façade. You knew that Conservatives who profess devotion to green policies were merely utilising another of their insincere marketing ploys. Their MPs had been dispatched to greenwash themselves, with photo opportunities and public declarations. Now we can see the reality. Sensing a change in public opinion, PM Sunak has reverted to type. He’s backtracked on previous targets and commitments for phasing out polluting vehicles, granted new oil extraction licenses, watered down efforts to cut air pollution, quietly promoted fracking and backed new coalfired power.

Local Conservative MPs are demanding the reversal of previous commitments to protect nature. Last year they promised to increase nature protection by designating 30% of the country under protective designations like Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and to ensure those designations are evidence-based and supported by best available scientific expertise. But they’ve since opposed the designation of a new SSSI here in west Cornwall and are demanding a watering down of measures to protect SSSIs, both here in Cornwall and in places like Dartmoor.

This political insincerity – saying one thing and doing another – is breath-taking enough. But it’s barmy and irresponsible too. It’s economically illiterate, as investors in renewable technologies need certainty and consistency. It will harm health, increase energy bills, undermine our economy, export green jobs, add to disastrous climate chaos and deplete our already seriously damaged natural environment.
Britain could lead the world. When the Liberal Democrats had influence in our climate and environmental policy, we set things on the right course. But since 2015 the Conservatives have been trashing the progress we made.