Almost all sectors of the economy are struggling as we adapt to living with a deadly virus. Perhaps telecommunications is doing well, but manufacturing, engineering, hospitality, arts and construction are all suffering, either closed or falteringly starting up again.
The big wheel of commerce has stopped, but we need people back in their jobs, not least because the social support systems that offer help when in need have been dismantled and kicked away by over ten years of austerity.
So it seems we are going ‘build, build, build’ our way out of trouble. And in order to make this possible planning laws will be changed to allow developers to build homes more quickly under ‘permitted development’ rules that mean councillors like me, who sit on planning committees, will have no say.
There are hundreds of thousands of houses waiting to be built. They already have planning consent. But too many developers are not building because they only build when they think they can make the best profit, not when more homes are needed.
If the government goes ahead and enables the empty office blocks to be converted to spaces to live in – I don’t think I can call them homes – we will be blighted for years to come with appalling sub-standard accommodation which doesn’t meet people’s real needs.
Instead of new developments or office conversions, we could put our energy into improving the homes we have with a comprehensive programme to insulate and draught-proof. In most cases planning consent is not required, but we need funding and skills.
Let’s strengthen the construction industry by setting up a comprehensive scheme which includes training for builders and more apprenticeships for building trades, and give residents much more information about what is possible.
After the Second World War this country built homes for returning heroes. Over the last four months we have learnt who our modern heroes are. The nurses, care workers, bin collectors, street and park cleaners, farmers, supermarket workers who serve us and stack the shelves, everyone doing deliveries. These key workers are our modern heroes and deserve homes that they can afford to buy, or rent.
Now’s the right time to get today’s heroes homes we can be proud of.