For too many young people, the idea of buying their own home now seems like an impossible dream. The average home costs almost eight times average earnings, making it extremely difficult to get on the housing ladder. So last month’s two announcements to promote homeownership are welcome.
The first was a significant increase in support for Help to Buy. It is clear that finding a deposit is still one of the biggest problems people face when looking to buy a new home. Help to Buy helps those who can afford monthly mortgage payments, but struggle to save for a deposit, to get a foot on the housing ladder. Help to Buy schemes have helped over 320,000 people across the UK buy a new home, including over 275,000 first time buyers. So the additional £10bn for this scheme will help extend the prospect of homeownership to even more young people and first time buyers.
Of course, this additional support for people buying a home needs to go hand in hand with increasing the supply of housing available. It is common knowledge that successive governments have failed to build enough housing in this country. But there has been some progress in recent years, and last year saw the highest number of residential planning permissions granted on record, and the highest level of net housing additions since the recession.
Ensuring housing is affordable is crucial, and social housing has a vital role to play. The average number of social housing units completed per year has increased steadily since 2010. An additional £2bn for new affordable housing was announced last month, taking the total up to £9bn. This is expected to help build 25,000 affordable homes, a further welcome addition.
These were particularly timely announcements for our area, as Shropshire Council is currently reviewing its Local Development Scheme, to ensure local development keeps up with changes in national policy, and to ensure that future development will meet local needs.
Shropshire Council has opened a public consultation into changes to its plan for future development, and local residents can submit their views up to the deadline of Monday 18th December. More information is available on www.shropshire.gov.uk.
Of course, local development can be controversial and needs to be appropriate in style and scale. But I would urge all those who intend to respond to the consultation to reflect on the challenges we face both locally and nationally.
In Shropshire, we need to boost the supply of housing for families. If we do not, our sons and daughters will be forced to live elsewhere by a spiralling cost of renting or buying a property. Our local businesses and services, including schools (whose pupil numbers continue to fall in South Shropshire overall), rely on working age families either staying here or coming here, to contribute to the local economy.
Locally we know the scale of the challenge – while it is of course important to protect rural areas from overdevelopment - that does not mean we should seek no development at all. I encourage local residents and town and parish councils to have their say, to ensure local development is appropriate, but also to ensure that South Shropshire plays its part in developing sufficient housing for future generations of Salopians.