Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is wrong – empty luxury flats are not causing the UK's housing crisis

 
Julian Harris
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London Wealth Continues To Grow
House prices in London have shot up in recent years (Source: Getty)

Donned in obligatory high-vis luminous green jackets, chancellor Philip Hammond and communities minister Sajid Javid spent Thursday mooching around a housing development in Leicester, celebrating the construction of new homes.

The announcement of an extra £10m to support housebuilding in the area was hardly groundbreaking, yet both men are thought to be considering more radical solutions to the UK's housing crisis.

"There are definitely bits of the green belt on which you should be able to build," one unnamed government minister was quoted as saying in a national newspaper earlier this week.

"Nobody wants to concrete over the countryside but it’s not black and white."

Read more: Only planning reform can fix Britain’s broken housing market

The Conservatives need to be bold if they're to defeat Labour in the fight to impress Generation Rent. Fresh analysis points to a huge swing among 30-something voters towards Jeremy Corbyn's party at last summer's election, suggesting that many aspiring homeowners and squeezed urban tenants turned their back on the Tories.

Nonetheless, Corbyn's supposed solutions to Britain's housing woes are typically misguided. Asked about homelessness and affordability last weekend, the Labour leader zoned in on an easy target.

"We would give local authorities the power to take over deliberately kept empty properties, because there is something grossly insulting about the idea you would build some luxury block and deliberately keep it empty," Corbyn said.

"Surely we have to have a social objective and a social priority in our society?"

Read more: Corbyn wants to take over empty luxury properties to solve housing crisis

His argument is rhetorically-strong, but – as this newspaper has previously explained – entirely divorced from reality.

The number of long-term empty properties in England dropped in each of the nine years leading up to 2016 (the latest year for which data is available), from 326,954 to 200,145. In London it has nearly halved, from 36,247 to 19,845.

A study commissioned by the mayor of London last year was blunt in its findings. Examining the role of foreign investors in the capital's housing market, the research – conducted by the London School of Economics – concluded: "there was almost no evidence of homes being left permanently empty".

It added: "A clear majority of [newly-built] units bought by overseas investors are let out to Londoners."

If we are to solve the housing crisis we must ignore lazy stereotypes and focus on the hard evidence. Hammond should live up to his "Spreadsheet Phil" nickname and observe figures such as these from Savills – while there is demand for 37,000 affordable new homes (costing under £450 per square foot) in London, only 9,800 in that category are being built.

Demand continues to outstrip supply, and will do so until ministers become bold enough to reform the UK's exceptionally restrictive planning system.

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