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When I was very young, my father used to say that the biggest mistake of the 1945 Labour government was that it had not nationalised land. With the control of land, he would say, a country could achieve great things.

Now this was South Africa in the 1960′s and I didn’t have a clue about what he was saying. I hadn’t heard of the 1945 Labour government, and I didn’t even know which country he was talking about. And what did nationalisation mean?

But I remember the passion with which he said this, and I knew it must be important. Today, I could not agree with him more.

This week I read that agricultural land in the south east of England can sell for less than £10,000 per acre. The same plot of land, with planning consent for housing, can sell for more than a £1m. Through the intervention of the state through its planning system, there is a 10,000% increase in the price of this land. This price is paid by future social housing developers, home owners and renters.

Why is it that the owners of land can see such a huge increase in the value of the land by doing nothing other that overcoming a few bureaucratic hurdles with a local authority and planning inspector.

In Brighton there is currently a major controversy relating to the possible development of a nine acre site between Ovingdean and Woodingdean. The reaction to the idea of developing this land has been very vocal, uniting politicians of different colours. The City Council describes the land as “urban fringe”. It borders on the Southdowns National Park.

I can’t comment on the merits of what might be being proposed for this site, but I am of the view that new homes have to go somewhere. If we get this reaction to developing the urban fringe, what can we expect when the inevitable is finally accepted, that we need market and new towns, not just the one being proposed for Mayfield Market Town, but several more in the south east.

There is an alternative. We might need to go higher. In Brighton and Hove we will need to say no to any further expansion of the universities. Nationally we have to end the right to buy, a policy so short sighted that it defies all logic. Its latest incarnation, Help to Buy, is stimulating demand and fuelling the already overheated housing market.

We will have to impose punitive taxes on second and other under-occupied homes so that leaving homes empty is no longer seen as a worthwhile investment proposition. Yes, the housing bubble will burst and some will be left with negative equity, but many more people are currently paying an even more unacceptable price.

Will a future government do any of this? Will land be nationalised? Will we see the housing market return to anything resembling sanity? Probably not in my lifetime, I am sorry to say.


ABOUT ANDY WINTER: I have worked for Brighton Housing Trust since 1985. Since 2003 I have been the chief executive of BHT. I tweet at @AndyWinterBHT and rather surprisingly, I am a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are my own and should not be assumed to be the formal policy of BHT. andywinterbht.wordpress.com

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