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Construction in the Green Belt. Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

UnHerd Elsewhere: An open letter to Dominic Raab

In an open letter to Dominic Raab published by Conservative Home last week, UnHerd’s Peter Franklin urges the new housing minister to consider building on the green belt in a bid to combat the housing crisis and win Conservative voters. Peter reminds Mr Raab that it wasn’t the ‘Youthquake’ that delivered the shock election result last year, but (according to the British Electoral Study) it was the increased turnout of disillusioned thirty-somethings:

“This is the age group hardest hit by the surge in house prices. They’re too young to have accumulated the savings required to get on the housing ladder, but old enough to start panicking about it. Before long, they could be too old to get a mortgage.”

Peter goes on to point out that if we lose a generation of homeowners, then the Conservative Party will lose a generation of voters:

“Losing London is bad enough, but if the current Government betrays Margaret Thatcher’s vision of a property owning democracy, then it endangers the Tory heartlands too. Housing is not the only issue on which the party needs to teach across the generational divide, but it is the most important.”

It wasn’t the ‘Youthquake’ that delivered the shock election result last year, but it was the increased turnout of disillusioned thirty-somethings.

Peter’s suggestion is not a “planning free-for-all” but a careful and strategic approach is required. For example, high-productivity cities like Oxford and Cambridge need to expand if they are to thrive. Peter reminds us that such cities are “heavily remain, pro-immigration places, so I’m sure the existing residents won’t mind making room for incomers. That’s what being tolerant is all about, yeah?” So what is the answer to the housing shortage, if not a free-for-all development of greenbelt land?

“The solution is for the Government to do some land banking of its own – by using land already owned by the public sector and purchasing additional land as required. Serviced plots from this national land bank would be sold to housing associations, community land trusts, smaller building firms and self-builders – with the aim of diversifying the housebuilding sector and increasing competition. Alternatively, land could be assembled over much larger areas to enable major developments like new garden cities.”

This, suggests Peter, is the only way to combat the housing crisis on a national scale. It has worked in South Korea and Singapore, so it should work for Britain too. The important thing is that it gets backing from the top. If this doesn’t happen then any efforts to change the government’s policy on the greenbelt will be futile.