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States' housing record "disgraceful - but there is no magic wand"

States' housing record

Monday 13 June 2022

States' housing record "disgraceful - but there is no magic wand"

Monday 13 June 2022


Deputy Peter Ferbrache told a national radio audience that the past performance of the States on housing was "disgraceful" but warned "there is no magic wand" to ease the affordability crisis in the island.

The President of the Policy & Resources Committee insisted that the States under his leadership is doing more to assist people who are struggling to buy or rent. But he said he wants to see greater government intervention in the housing market, including additional public investment of hundreds of millions of pounds.

Deputy Ferbrache made his comments while appearing as a panellist on Any Questions? - Radio 4's flagship political programme - which was broadcast from St James on Friday evening. Minutes after the programme concluded, Deputy Neil Inder announced that he and Deputy Ferbrache would take a proposal to the States' Assembly later this month to try to force a housing action plan by the end of the year.

Pictured: Deputy Neil Inder said that he and Deputy Peter Ferbrache would try to use the States' debate on the Government Work Plan to force more action on the States' response to housing challenges.

Deputy Ferbrache told Any Questions? that "the average price in Guernsey on the local market is £574,000...it’s 15 or 16 times average earnings... to buy or even to rent on the local market is exceedingly difficult".

Presenter Chris Mason asked Deputy Ferbrache: "What are you going to do about it?"

"It's supply and demand. Build more houses," said Deputy Ferbrache.

"We haven’t built enough houses in the past five years…we’ve got to intervene. I would rather have industry do its own thing…but here we’ve got to have government intervention."

GHA key worker housing Ville au Roi

Pictured: Key worker housing at Ville au Roi was opened in 2019 but Deputy Peter Ferbrache said it is one of too few examples of new housing built or partially funded by the States in recent years.

"We could build – it’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to solve the problem, but it could make a big dent in the problem – we could build lots of houses if we sold our social housing to the Guernsey Housing Association, got a big chunk of money and invested that money in buying land at reasonable prices," said Deputy Ferbrache.

"Make sure the developers make a profit but not an excessive profit and make sure that the ordinary Guernsey person who hasn’t got a bank of mum and dad can buy their own plot, have partial ownership...a whole different series of solutions.

"When I started, I was living in Nottingham because my wife was from Nottinghamshire and I was a Guernseyman up there. Our first house cost less than a table we bought a few years ago. That was the difference."

Referring to fellow panellist Lord Digby Jones, Deputy Ferbrache joked that "the table was nearly as big as Digby's ego". 

Housing_costs_increasing_rental_costs_increasing.jpg

Pictured: The average cost of a house in Guernsey is now at least 15 or 16 times the average earnings of a single person. The affordability index has deteriorated significantly in recent decades. 

Mr Mason said to Deputy Ferbrache: "You’ve been [President of the Policy & Resources Committee] for two years. Our listeners might wonder why you can’t achieve more in the time you’ve been in office. In 2020, I read that none of the 162 applications granted here in Guernsey were for affordable housing."

"Indeed. And it's disgraceful," said Deputy Ferbrache. 

"I’m not going to absolve myself of responsibility because government hasn’t done enough. The truth is there is no magic wand. We have now embarked upon a better – it will never be perfect but a better – social housing building policy.

"We’ve bought some land with public money – taxpayers’ money – and we’re very likely very shortly to buy another chunk of land and we’ll build social housing. You can never build enough. We haven’t built enough in recent years."

Deputy_Neil_Inder_and_housing_.jpg

Pictured: Deputy Neil Inder has suggested that prospective property owners could finish building houses themselves if they received support to get them to 'wind and watertight' stage.

On Saturday, Deputy Inder appeared to indicate that the amendment which he and Deputy Ferbrache intend to submit to the States' Government Work Plan debate would not be restricted to social housing or key worker housing.

Another panellist, long-time Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, suggested that the housing affordability crisis facing younger and less affluent people could be alleviated by governments using some of the wealth accumulated by people who have owned property for many years and seen it climb in value.

"People like me, of my age, who bought houses ages ago have seen our property rise and rise and rise at an astronomical rate," said Ms Toynbee.

"Very often, people who own houses have seen their house earn more in a week than they earn going out to work. We have to find a way of taxing some of that wealth and pushing it back down to the people who need to be able to buy or at least need to be able to rent affordably.

"It’s a desperate situation. Young people are getting older and older before they have a chance of buying."

Polly_Toynbee_and_Jayne_Ozanne.jpg

Pictured: Polly Toynbee (left) and Jayne Ozanne were on the panel for the first Any Questions? broadcast from Guernsey for 40 years.

Guernseywoman Jayne Ozanne, who was also on the panel, said that it was necessary to build more houses but that other ideas were needed as well.

"It’s not just that," she said. "I live in Oxford and part of the problem is that you just haven’t got the income to save for a deposit because the rental market is so high.

"As I understand it, here in Guernsey there is no protection against people putting up rents. I know someone whose rent has gone up 65% with only a couple of months’ warning.

“It is impossible for me to save to create the deposit I need and that’s where the issue is.

“We also need to look at social housing…we’re never building the level of social housing needed…and we need homes, not just houses.”

Lord_Digby_Jones.jpg

Pictured: Lord Digby Jones said that politicians who allowed people to think that it was possible for a single person on an average wage to buy a property were "having you on". 

The Lord Jones of Birmingham, who chairs the local think tank GPEG [Guernsey Policy and Economic Group], said: "Government can’t solve that problem. What they can do is help create an environment where other forces can try and solve that problem.

"So there will be things like legislation, taxation…there could be some form of help at the bottom end to help get people on the ladder - and by help I mean cash. Some form of equity participation worked quite well a few years ago and that might work well again.

"There are a lot of builders sitting on an awful lot of land. They bought it at x and it’s now worth 10x. That is going to be a serious component part of the price issue. There has to be a way in which you can get builders building more quickly after acquisition of land.

"Planning permission is also an issue here in Guernsey…we’ve moved on from NIMBY and we are now in BANANA – build absolutely nothing absolutely nowhere at all.

"We have got to get those who want to buy at the bottom of the chain understanding that they can’t just sit there and say ‘I can’t do it’.

"There has to be a level of quantifiable priority taken by the people. You can’t have your foreign holiday, you can’t have your satellite dish...there has to be a degree of contribution by the person."

READ MORE...

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Tuesday's Express will feature reaction to the debate on Any Questions?

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