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We haven’t been building enough houses, and this has pushed prices up. In London, the mean house price-to-earnings ratio has shot up from 4:1 to 10:1 in just two decades, causing home ownership to slip beyond the grasp of young, upstart first-time buyers. Housing must be cheaper.

But rapidly devaluing houses would be disastrous. Ramping up housing supply too quickly could cause a breathtaking drop in house prices, jeopardising retirement plans for millions of Britons, and potentially crashing the financial system.

Everyone agrees. Housing is broken. The experts think so. The media think so. Even the Government thinks so. Introducing the housing white paper at last year’s Conservative Party Conference, Theresa May blasted the “broken” housing system, and pledged to invest £2 billion in affordable housing.

But let us correctly diagnose the issue. We do not have a housing crisis. We have an ‘affordable’ housing crisis. The Government is in an unenviable position, forced to balance the needs of disaffected first-time buyers for whom home ownership is a distant dream, and reassuring homeowners that their investments are secure.

The aim of our housing policy should be to decrease house prices – but not too rapidly, which could be calamitous.

Conservatives must build more houses – on the green belt if necessary, or making productive use of existing brownfield sites – and relax planning controls. Only by adopting such radical measures can we fulfil the noble goal of creating a ‘property-owning democracy’. Government figures demonstrate that 184,000 homes were completed in 2016-17, below the pre-crash peak of 200,000.

It is not clear how many houses we need. Dr Alan Holmans suggests that an extra quarter of a million houses must be built each year – just to maintain housing stock. To have any serious effect on affordability, more will be needed. The Chancellor Philip Hammond has claimed that 300,000 new homes a year are needed, repeating the findings of a House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee report. This figure is likely to be nearer the mark.

Such a titanic house-building programme requires land. Yet, post-war planners – wary of unchecked urban sprawl consuming the countryside surrounding British cities – introduced the green belt in 1947, which limited building on city outskirts. The name ‘green belt’ is a masterstroke of marketing, conjuring up bucolic images of the unspoilt, rolling countryside we love to associate with this green and pleasant land. This is a myth. A third of the green belt is used for intensive farming. The green belt needs to be slackened to allow for house-building.

According to a 2015 report by the Adam Smith Institute, a million new homes could be built on just 3.7% of London’s green belt within walking distance of a Tube station.

A compelling slippery-slope counter-argument could be levelled against this proposition: if we start chipping away at the green belt now, will we ever stop? If so, when? To assuage these fears, green belt development must be coupled with a more productive use of brownfield land. This can be achieved through densification.

In his 2017 housing strategy, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan endorsed new design standards, which brought high-density (not high-rise) housing to outer London boroughs. Such densification may allow a greater number of homes to be built without unnecessarily impinging on the green belt. It would be particularly advantageous for our capital city.

A further valuable idea is the relaxation of planning controls. At present, house-building is essentially rationed by the state, so development rights are handed out stringently under this quasi-socialist regime. Decisively shifting towards a free market system of planning control would be welcome. Whilst the government made some limited provision for decentralising planning control in the Localism Act 2011, more is needed. Giving local authorities and ordinary citizens a say on where new homes are built lead to a more productive use of available land.

It is hard to ignore the extent to which the housing affordability crisis is centred around London, where rent prices cost – on average – a third of household income. Making areas like Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham more attractive to prospective homeowners – both financially and culturally – presents opportunities for productive and exciting policymaking.

Whilst researching this essay, I noticed that every article entitled “The Government should do X to solve the housing crisis” was rebutted by an opinion piece entitled “Doing X will not solve the housing crisis on its own.” Whilst this trend – where an article would be answered, in true Newtonian fashion, with an equal and opposite article – was frustrating, it demonstrated something of immense value. No single policy can fix the housing crisis. Fiddling with stamp duty, re-introducing rent controls – this is mere tinkering.

An ambitious national programme of house-building in re-densified urban areas – and on the green belt – is needed. Local communities should have all reasonable power to direct where houses are built.

Both main parties have a stake in this issue, but especially the Conservative Party: a Conservative MP – Noel Skelton – coined the term ‘property-owning democracy’. Harold Macmillan, when he was Prime Minister, established his political reputation by building half a million new houses a year. In Anthony Eden’s political vision, power and property were to be widely distributed across all citizens – and that meant home ownership. In John Redwood MP’s words, property ownership is the “economic expression of democracy.” The radical reforms I have outlined in this piece are necessary – to win the next general election, to fulfil the Conservative vision, and to unite Disraeli’s divided, disparate Britons into One Nation.

James Smith was the winner of the 2018 Tamworth Prize with this essay. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.