Official policy is to get 300,000 homes ayear but the grass roots are showing less enthusiasm

Brian Berry

Housing is top of the agenda again as the Lib Dems, keen not to be outdone at their Glasgow conference, have upped the stakes and called for 300,000 new homes a year.

It’s great ambition but don’t look too closely at the detail because this is going to be left until the first year of the next parliament when a long-term plan will be developed to set out how is goal will be achieved.

The reality of course is that we haven’t built that level of housing since the late sixties. Indeed the last time we built over 200,000 homes was in 1988.

I’m not even sure the mainstream of the party even want 300,000 new homes. The Lib Dems were stirred up when they came out in record numbers for our joint fringe event with the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) on Sunday night.

The main party may want 300,000 new homes but the audience of active and informed members was in no mood to accept the numbers game. This was a lively and challenging debate with serious concerns being raised about the quality of any new housing and the growing need to cater for a growing elderly population. This audience was having no truck with big housebuilders or issues about viability. Land banking was the bête noir as the passion rose in a room packed with nearly a hundred delegates.

The main party may want 300,000 new homes but many active and informed members are in no mood to accept the numbers game

Outside the fringe events it was good to catch up with Lorely Burt MP, parliamentary private secretary to Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury. Lorely has been an active supporter of small builders so it was good to get her on side to put pressure on the government to reduce the eligibility threshold for the £525m Builders Finance Fund, which is designed to help small developments get funding. A great result for Britain’s small house builders if this is achieved.

The atmosphere may not be fizzing as it was last week in Birmingham but the nighttime bar was still energised for a party whose latest opinion poll rating is just 7%.

Interestingly, many senior party members are feeling angry and exasperated that their achievements haven’t been recognised but hopeful that they will have some role in determining the next government. With the opinion polls neck and neck the prospect of another coalition government doesn’t seem so far fetched as it once did. However, with another seven months to go until the general election there is all to play for.

Brian Berry is chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders