Stephen Gilbert, the Libdem MP for St Austell and Newquay, has written a brief article on housing – and got it half right.

He nods in passing to empty houses and second homes but recognises that dealing with those won’t solve the crucial issue of a serious and growing shortage of homes. Gilbert is unambiguous and wholly right about the central problem: “We don’t have enough homes and we need to build more”. Exactly so. This sensible understanding contrasts well with the luddism and with the misfocus on second homes we sometimes hear in Cornwall.

I’m afraid Gilbert’s arguments do falter too and show the unresolved contradictions of the Libdem outlook. There is the usual Libdem romantic mantra about localism not centralism and bottom-up rather than top-down – and he acknowledges, without solving, the disabling difficulties that such an approach brings in housing. He recognises the danger that localism will empower nimbyism but says emptily that “we will have to face up to that”. I fear that without sharp central elbows it will come down at the last, after friendly persuasion has failed, to accepting nimby vetoes – impeccably local – on more houses.

He adds rightly that government should ensure that “everyone can access decent and stable accommodation at a price they can afford”, but does not explain how that can be done if absolute decisions to build or not to build are taken locally.

Gilbert has made an important point: many people need homes, we must build more. He, and the Libdems, need to think through the difficulties of localism and nimbyism, and how in the face of those central government can deliver the affordable houses he rightly says is its “duty” to do. It would be good to hear more of his thinking and practical ideas on these points. I’d like to make it both hands clapping.

Related posts

Bleak outlook for affordable housing in Cornwall 25 November 2010. This leads to other posts on affordable housing on this blog.

Two cheers for Cornwall Libdem MPs 6 June 2011

Four Cornwall MPs represent their parties as members of the House of Commons select committees:

EUSTICE George (Conservative Camborne and Redruth) Environment, food, and rural affairs select committee
GEORGE Andrew (LD St Ives) Health
GILBERT Stephen (LD St Austell and Newquay) Communities and local government
ROGERSON Dan (LD North Cornwall) Environment, food, and rural affairs