Home building in Gloucestershire was at long last given a real boost in the Prime Minister’s Conservative party conference speech yesterday.
In what was a surprise move to help the housing market - probably this county’s greatest challenge - Mrs May announced that the government would scrap the cap on how much local authorities could borrow to build new homes.
“We will only fix this broken market by building more homes”, she said. ”Solving the housing crisis is the biggest domestic policy agenda of our generation. It doesn’t make sense to stop councils playing their part. We will help you get on the housing ladder, and we will build the homes this country needs”
It certainly doesn’t make sense to prevent councils like Stroud putting a brake on building homes because the government previously refused to allow them to borrow more money to build more of these desperately needed homes.
I talked to David Hagg, the retiring chief executive of Stroud District Council this morning - his council have been trailblazers in Gloucestershire in building new homes - houses and flats. Over the last five years, they have built 234 homes - a small number you might think - but here lies the problem. The government put the block on more borrowing by refusing to scrap the Treasury’s borrowing cap. In fact, Stroud is now the only council actively building their own homes in the county.
They have a council homes stock of about 5,000 - all built in previous years. Stroud deserve great credit for pushing the envelope here and blowing our own trumpet slightly, Business West have been helping in that campaign of persuasion. In fact, we called for the lifting of the housing cap on local authorities in our General Election Business Manifesto way back in 2015.
With the cap lifted, the government has now got a better chance to try and reach its target of building 300,000 new homes a year.
It will not achieve that, of course, with current plans to build around 180,000 homes, but it is a step in the right direction.
The fact that this was virtually the only policy announcement made by Mrs May yesterday in her conference speech means that the government is now conscious of the urgency of trying to mend what the Prime Minister had previously called the broken housing market.
Now that we have had this announcement from Mrs May, I believe that all councils in Gloucestershire need to look at building new homes as a matter of urgency. New, affordable homes are inextricably linked to the county’s economy as we have seen from the 2050 project and young families choosing to stay in what is an expensive property county - they must now put it at the very top of their agendas.