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The thing about a gravy train is nobody wants to be first to jump off. Even when it appears to have left the rails, there are plenty who think a little adjustment here or there will restore the equilibrium.

For the last fifty years, our economy and aspirations have been fuelled by a housing market gravy train that, with an occasional devastating crash, has delivered a comfortable lifestyle for many.

Even now, as sales shrivel to their lowest level since records began, the government paints itself as the hero riding to the rescue of beleaguered first-time buyers.

Fear not, housing minister Margaret Beckett cries – we’ll get you onto the housing ladder.

You might have thought it would be a good time to examine the state of the ladder. Or even whether it’s heading up or down.

Is it wise to invest much of the £101m announced this week in assets whose long-term value is open to question? But it seems home ownership is part of our DNA.

It’s comforting to imagine that a home you own is yours for ever, with no little Hitlers to tell you where to plant your garden gnomes.

And for millions, homes have been appreciating assets whose value could be passed on. But if we don’t change our view, we’ll be locked into an ever more damaging cycle.

The misery of negative equity and repossession is now being repeated for those who gambled at the wrong time. And when the market booms again, those who haven’t gambled at all will once again be priced out.

The last thing we should do is get this conveyor belt of greed and exclusion working as before. Home ownership is sustainable only when there aren’t huge profits and losses to be made.

The way to stabilise values is to reduce demand, which means making the alternatives more attractive – not just building more.

That’s how the £1.4bn of housing and planning delivery grant should be spent.

There are plenty of alternatives, which, with suitable investment, could provide security of tenure without price volatility.

Cooperative housing, community land trusts, community self build – all these offer more sustainable options for the future.

Instead of expecting housing associations to bail out housebuilders, we should set a sustainability threshold on public investment in housing.

The bottom line must be long term affordability, freeholds that remain with local trusts or public bodies, and a shift in focus from the private to the common good.

Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine


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