Friday, 28 October 2011

A huff and a puff…

I'm reading Anna Minton's Ground Control in preparation for a lecture on urban space next week (plus lots of psychogeography and French philosophy, like Perec and Lefebvre - it'll be fun). One of her discussions is about the housing market.

It goes like this. The Tories wouldn't let councils invest money in building new council housing. The private sector was meant to provide. But they didn't because markets don't work. The developers limited supply rather than meeting it, because that increased house prices, making more money for them. The millions of people who are homeless or trapped in bedsits suffer, but who cares.

So the situation is this: New Labour and the current Tories knew very well that there are enough planning permits out there to house everybody. But they know that the developers don't want to use them. So they've… weakened the planning laws even more so that the few bits of the environment protected currently will be opened up for development. The greedy, stupid bastards.

So. I have an idea. Firstly, make planning permission time-limited, like local currencies that expire after a period, to stimulate demand. That way, housing speculators and supermarkets (who buy land to prevent rivals building shops - leaving two massive plots derelict for a decade and counting here in the Land of Pork Scratchings) either build, or lose their permits. Secondly: tax the unused land progressively higher until it's built on. Thirdly: if building isn't under way by the time the permit expires, take the land into public ownership. Compulsory Purchase Orders refer to 'public benefit', so that's really easy.

Of course, I know one MP who'd be horrified by the prospect, one Paul Uppal MP. But then (though he doesn't like to talk about it), he's a multimillionaire property speculator. (By the way, it's two weeks since I asked him what he meant by Liam Fox's 'sterling work in Sri Lanka'. No reply yet!).

Readers: can you see any flaw here?

1 comment:

Jason D Jawando said...

Under the current planning laws, permission is time-limited - I think it's five years, but I could be wrong. The situation involving certain supermarket chains and a city in the West Midlands has partly arisen because the chain whose name begins with T couldn't get permission to redevelop the Royal Hospital site when they first bought it in the mid-nineties. The site on the other side of the city centre is the subject of a well-publicised squabble between the two chains and the City Council. The Council has tried to enforce a CPO on this site, but this has been subject to a protracted legal battle.

The idea of taxing owners at a progressively higher rate is attractive, but tax law already attracts some of the finest legal minds, who are well remunerated for devising elaborate ways round the system. Property is particularly complicated in this respect: do you, for example tax the legal owner or the beneficial owner? Unfortunately, I think the only people to benefit from a scheme like this would be lawyers and tax consultants.