No simple answer to housing problems

WHY has Britain's favourite heritage group, The National Trust, gone into battle with the government over proposals for new homes across the south of England?I can understand their allies, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, getting involved.

WHY has Britain's favourite heritage group, The National Trust, gone into battle with the government over proposals for new homes across the south of England?

I can understand their allies, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, getting involved. But why is the Trust concerning itself with such a wrong-headed campaign?

It's wrong-headed because once again the CPRE is trying to fly in the face of progress and of the laws of supply and demand.

Put bluntly, the CPRE doesn't like the government proposal to built another 478,000 homes in the six counties East of England by 2021.


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It wants fewer homes built - and those which are built to be “social housing” for people who are not able to afford to buy their own homes.

It's daft to deny that this country, and especially this region, needs more social housing. The policies of governments from 1979 onwards have led to a substantial decline in the number of social homes - especially council houses - on the market.

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This tapped into a deep-rooted element of the British psyche which says it is best to own your own home.

I'm sure there will be people who write in after this to say that they are quite happy with renting and would not want the hassle of a mortgage, but the fact is that most people aspire to owning their own home.

That is why the Conservatives' right to buy legislation was so popular in 1979.

Today teachers, nurses, police officers, civil servants, council staff, and a host of other professions who may have happily lived in a council house in the 1950s or 60s expect - and demand - to live in their own home.

And while it is a good idea to make more rental homes available, it is more than a touch patronising to say: “We'd like you to teach in our village school, but we can't pay you enough to own your own home here so we'll let you rent one of our nice housing association flats a few miles down the road.”

Frankly the only mechanism to allow that to happen is to allow more homes to be built - and that does mean that the characters of communities will change.

If you are going to find a developer to build starter homes in villages, they are going to want to build enough to make the development economic.

An extra 25 starter homes in a village with a population of 250 may change its character - but at least it will create somewhere for the young people to live.

And it will keep life in the place - it will not just turn into a ghetto for commuters and the wealthy retired.

Rather than complain about new homes, the CPRE would be better advised to ensure that new developments are balanced and in character with the area.

It is sad that too much of what we hear is negative - the fact is that people do want to live in villages if the homes are available and it would be in the interests of rural England to give them the chance to do just that.

AS people go the vote in Ipswich today, I've been left scratching my head somewhat by the attitude of the Labour Party here in the town.

I had expected a really furious campaign from them, especially after events over the last two years.

Back in 2003 and 2004 when the party lost many council seats it had never expected to fall, it remained defiant.

Last year in the general election/county election it performed very well in Ipswich, winning 10 out of the 13 seats up for grabs after a vigorous campaign in the town.

But this year its campaign has been lack-lustre and frankly the party looks much further away from winning power back at Civic Centre than it did 18 months ago.

There haven't been as many party workers tramping the streets as you would expect and in places where Labour really should be fighting hard their people haven't been seen.

Could it be that some party activists are using this election as an excuse to have a go at the government, and at leading ministers.

One senior Labour member I spoke to the other day said he was aware that many of their normal footsoldiers were fed up with the Prime Minister and his team.

“If the party gets a good kicking and we then get rid of Blair, Clarke and Hewitt there won't be too many tears shed.

“We'll still have a Labour government at the weekend - but many of us would rather have Gordon Brown in charge,” he said.

ONE thing's certain about today's election in Ipswich. Turnout will be pathetic - varying between 30 per cent and 50pc across the borough. What an indictment of democracy!

I'm not sure that the latest suggestions of making voting compulsory is such a great idea. Voting should be a matter of duty and of pride but no one should be forced to cast a vote.

People should, however, be able to vote much more easily. Why shouldn't we be able to vote in the town centre near our offices rather than turn out to a polling station which may be half a mile from your home.

In these days of electronics and computers, surely it is possible to send out a voting card with a PIN or something to enable us to vote where we want to, not where the council says we should.

I know we can all have postal votes these days - but applying for one is a great palaver which most of us can do without.

Overall, however, the one way of getting people to go out and vote is by making an election worth voting in - and that only tends to happen in general elections, especially when the result is too close to call.

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