From the archive, 22 September 1975: 'End rent controls' says Sir Keith Joseph

Sir Keith Joseph, the Shadow Cabinet policy maker and former Housing Minister, said at the weekend that homelessness would not be cured until rent controls were phased out and a taxation system introduced which allowed private landlords to flourish.

Public sector housing should be confined to providing for the elderly and the disabled, and to personal subsidies for those who could not afford market rents. He added that many Labour politicians were now thinking this way “but they dare not say it publicly.”

Sir Keith, who was speaking at the Urban Studies Conference at Oxford, said it was grotesque that the Prudential Assurance Company should be seeking to invest money when the proper place was in housing for profit.

The long vendetta against private landlords had atrophied the main medium for meeting housing demand. Rent control had also reduced wages because they now reflected subsidised housing.

When one of his audience of planners, academics and administrators reminded Sir Keith that planners did not operate rent controls he asked why they did not speak out when they knew that their efforts to provide houses were overtaken by housing decay, caused by rent control.

Sir Keith criticised planners for lacking an understanding of basic economics and political economy and for ignoring the market, which was a “continuous process of consultation and adaptation.”

Civil servants, planners, and architects, acted as if the law of supply and demand could be repealed. He was not saying the market should always be followed, but it should be understood. By not releasing land in response to demand the planners had allowed developers to make a fortune.

“Only the understanding that comes with genius and deep and wide study can use the God like powers that planners now have,” he added. Some said planners did not have enough power, and that their powers were only negative. “This is grossly misleading. Negative power can be used in an exceedingly positive way.”

Sir Keith said he would be setting up a Conservative policy group on planning, on which he wanted wide ranging representation, and he asked for ideas, and suggestions.


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