The Capital Club was delighted to host Lord Balfe at its third breakfast discussion meeting on 21 November. Hosted by Chris Hayward and attended by London’s housing and planning industry leaders, on the morning of the Budget Lord Balfe gave us a unique perspective on whole range of topics such as the parliamentary process, the House of Lords, Brexit and the housing crisis.
Discussion began with talk of UK’s housing market. It was argued that the housing crisis had two key underlying problems. The first was that people on the whole consume more housing space than they did previously – the amount of square foot required per person has greatly expanded. The second was the lack of supply – it was argued that there was no amount of modification to pricing mechanism that could address the underlying problem that we need to build more houses.
Discussion then moved on to ‘myths’ surrounding the debate on the housing market. The point was made that the idea that there are large banks of land being held by ‘greedy’ developers is not always true. Instead, much land that is being held is not being developed on for many reasons – such as the land not being suitable.
However, the point was made that as a whole, the nation needed to revaluate its approach to land, in particular, land on the green belt. It was argued that we needed to move away from the idea that greenbelt land is ‘sacred’ when, actually, much of it is not picturesque scenery and is highly suitable for development.
Conversation then inevitably shifted to Brexit. Worries were expressed that leaving the Single Market and Customs Union would negatively affect the British labour market and productivity. The example of Rolls-Royce was suggested, given that its engines are built in concert with several EU nations. Customs delays, it was argued, could seriously affect that supply chain.
Parliament and potential reform was then discussed, in particular proposed reductions to the number of MP’s and Lords. It was argued that reducing the number of MP’s would in reality not present much of a saving to the public purse, since in their absence the remaining MP’s would then have to add more staff to their payroll.
When discussing potential reform to the House of Lords, the positives of having life peers were highlighted, in terms of their longevity and experience that they bring to the legislative process. It was also highlighted that whilst there are over 800 peers, that is not to say that all of that number attend the House of Lords on a daily basis, nor do they all vote.
It was stated that reforms that are likely to take place are the introduction of 15 year renewable peerages and the reduction of the number of effective peers to 600.