Taken from the December issue of Housebuilder magazine.
Stephen Byfield, managing director of communications consultancy PPS, says that on housing and policy politicians like to slap or bribe - but still find some areas too politically toxic to touch.
I was recently debating the merits of smacking young children. Are happier, more biddable, children the result of a strict smacking regime or does it just make life easier for the parents?
It is a question worth asking our politicians as they outline their policies for the housing sector in the run up to the general election. That we need more houses has become a political act of faith almost as all-pervading as love of the NHS or support for our brave armed forces. But the political parties have two distinct approaches to the provision of those houses. Either they want to bribe or to smack.
David Cameron and Eric Pickles are the bribers. Their approach is to encourage people into the market by making it easier for people to buy homes. First time buyers under 40 will be offered a 20 percent discount on new homes and a new Rent to Buy scheme will be introduced. Local authorities will be incentivised to bring more of their land holdings forward for development.
Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are the smackers. Labour is committed to a new generation of urban extensions and the Lyons Review will name sites for a string of garden cities to be imposed on the grateful residents of Middle England. House builders are to be fined for sitting on, rather than developing, land banks. Nick Clegg believes he can deliver 300,000 units a year through yet more garden cities and the creation of a Commissioner for Housing who will sit in Whitehall and force local authorities to hit their targets.
All parties are light on proposals to free up the planning system. In this, it promises to be an unusual election, as revised planning regimes have been ushered in by almost every new Government since the system was invented.
None of them have any thoughts on solving the current big problem for housebuilders - finding the labour to actually drive the cranes and lay the bricks. In this the proponents of strict immigration control are doing the industry great harm.
Some problems are too difficult for politicians to resolve whether they slap or bribe. Legislating for a planning system that delivers homes rather than allowing NIMBYs to protect their assets, or legislating to allow foreign people to come and fill job shortages are solutions so politically toxic that no politician can embrace them.