Our desperate need to deliver economic growth becomes ever more pressing, and the party conferences won't even touch the sides. I don't really buy into the notion that house building is the total answer. But the parallel need to house people is, of course, also becoming ever more pressing, whether or not there is any causal connection in economic theory.
There was a "Homes for Britain" fringe meeting held by the Town and Country Planning Association and Crest Nicholson yesterday lunchtime at the LibDems; in the face of the mansion tax furore (and Nick Clegg's raiding of the pension pots) where they asked "Are garden cities and suburbs part of the solution?" Bless.
Me? Well I reckon we need a hundred, or maybe a thousand, solutions to cracking our need for homes.
One possible solution presented itself in a much overlooked and uncommented-upon item, which fell on stony ground during the Olympics, lost in all the bells and whistles. This may be of serious significance to the housing debate, or more accurately, the homelessness debate. On Thursday 10 August I caught a simply splendid piece on Radio 4's You and Yours, outlining how Stoke on Trent City Council is working in partnership with the Empty Homes Agency to bring forward a radical "homesteading project".
This was billed as the first in the UK in a decade (although I now understand there are examples elsewhere, and I would be interested to hear from practitioners). This initiative allows empty homes to be sold to people on low incomes for £1 each, bringing empty residences back into use, and promoting home ownership.
As part of the package, Stoke council is also offering loans of £30,000 to refurbish empty homes for those hit by cuts in housing benefit. The council is match-funding the £1.5m of the government's empty homes funding with £1.5m from its own capital allowance in this innovative scheme.
Well! This could certainly show one way. It is a brilliant and responsible thing that these guys are doing and they deserve huge support. David Ireland of the Empty Homes Agency, who was the major spokesman on the radio item, said that the Stoke area "doesn't need a developer, it needs a community". Utterly brilliant.
Now I have met some of the members and officers from Stoke. They are a proactive lot, and I am not surprised they have been bold, but I bet this is all far from easy. I am interested that they have not trialled it much further, and would guess that they are waiting to see whether it takes before going more public (perhaps we'll see something in these 'ere party conferences). But Stoke City Council and the Empty Homes Agency deserve major support for this innovative, it is a brave and groundbreaking scheme.
It's not clear how the finance will really work and the number of properties concerned has not yet been announced, but it seems an interesting way to change the nature of a place. How novel to put people at the heart of a physical regeneration programme!
And how much is this needed? One of the things that came across to me and Dr Evans, rather loudly and clearly, during the enervating process of the Select Committee on Regeneration last summer, was how little alternative there was on offer to the old housing renewal programme areas.
There was a lot of wringing of hands and futile bleating for more government money, but very little suggested in the way of concrete solutions. I would suggest that this is a word to the wise in those local authorities with streets of empty terraces: the solution is staring you in the face. Get the Empty Homes Agency involved in every one of those failed Pathfinder or HMR areas, pronto.