Originally posted on my blog for Inside Housing on November 14.
There was good news and bad news for the government in a new housing statistics out this week that illustrate the scale of the issues it still needs to address.
The good news is that housebuilding in England is up again: there were 241,000 net additional dwellings in 2018/19, an increase of 9% in the last 12 months and 93% in the last six years.
Net additional dwellings make up the government’s preferred measure of housing output and add together new build completions, conversions and change of use less demolitions.
That total is not just higher than at the previous peak of output before the financial crisis and credit crunch – it is also the highest total recorded since the government started collecting the data in this way in 1991/92.
Significantly, for the first time total net additions are higher than the 240,000 a year target that the last Labour government set in the wake of Kate Barker’s landmark review of housing supply in 2004
True, the big increase over the last six years also reflects just how low output had sunk in the wake of the credit crunch, and true a housing market downturn and recession in the building industry could yet derail progress.
However, with more recent council tax data indicating that annual output may now be over 250,000, the government’s target of 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s no longer looks completely outlandish.
Indeed, a separate report from the Home Builders Federation (HBF) estimates that planning permissions were issued for 380,000 new homes in England in the year to June.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick was quick to welcome the figures and make a campaigning point for the general election:
One more bit of good news is that the bulk of the net additions came from new build completions (213,660) rather than conversions of questionable quality (14,107 were delivered via permitted development, which was only a slight increase on 2017/18).
However, focussing purely on how many new homes were delivered does not tell us much about how the government is doing on other housing issues.
Originally posted on November 5 on my blog for Inside Housing.
The sad fate of (non) starter homes offers a lesson for politicians in the folly of making unworkable promises but it is one they seem unlikely ever to learn.
A report published on Tuesday by the National Audit Office (NAO) investigates what happened to one of the flagship promises made by the Conservatives in their 2015 election manifesto: ‘200,000 Starter Homes, which will be sold at a 20% discount and will be built exclusively for first-time buyers under the age of 40’.
Four and a half years later, the total number of completions is precisely zero and the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has not even laid the regulations in parliament that would enable any starter homes to be built.
So what has happened since the heady days of 2015, when the spending review allocated £2.3 billion to build the first 60,000 starter homes?
The NAO finds that the money was gradually diverted into other schemes to buy and remediate land: a total of around £450m was spent on sites but they ended up being developed for a mix of market sale and affordable homes.
What its report does not reveal is why. This, after all, was one of the key promises made by David Cameron’s Conservatives in 2015.
Originally posted on November 1 on my blog for Inside Housing.
For all the admirable clarity in Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s phase one report from the Grenfell Tower inquiry, 28 months on from the fire the official response is still running to catch up.
This week’s leaks and row about the role of the London Fire Brigade (LFB) only serve as reminders of how much else remains to be done.
The other major event of the week ensured that the building safety legislation promised in the Queen’s Speech to implement the Hackitt review will have to wait until after the election.
The same goes for the social housing white paper. It has now at least been promised by the prime minister and housing secretary but the clock is still ticking on regulation, fighting stigma and all the other fine words in the green paper published 14 months ago.
That too will have to wait until after December 12, probably with yet more new ministers who will need to get up to speed with the issues.
Sir Martin’s phase one report found that the cladding was the ‘primary cause of fire spread’ and the judge ruled that it breached the building regulations.
He had not intended to rule on this point in the first part of the inquiry focussing on what happened on the night of 14 June, 2017. But he says there is ‘compelling evidence’ that the external walls did not meet the requirement in the regulations to ‘adequately resist the spread of fire’ and adds that ‘on the contrary they promoted it’.
This may seem self-evident to anyone who has followed events since the fire but the fact that he has made the judgement clears the way for phase two and moves the inquiry closer to deciding on who was responsible for the actions and inactions that led to it.
Originally posted on October 25 on my blog for Inside Housing.
The row over the hike in the interest rate for borrowing from the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB) is important in itself but it also raises a more fundamental point about social housing investment.
The rate increase imposed by the Treasury earlier this month seems to have been sparked by concern about councils investing in shopping centres rather than homes, which is ironic given that their rationale is to find new revenue streams to compensate for Treasury-imposed austerity.
However, it reinforces the impression that the government still does not trust councils to invest wisely in housing or anything else.
That view goes way back to 1979, of course, and the borrowing and spending controls that the Thatcher government imposed on council housing along with the right to buy.
But it also recalls the way that the government finally introduced self-financing in April 2012 but accompanied it with caps on borrowing and then undermined their business plans by imposing the 1% a year rent cut from April 2016.
Now, just at the point when research by Inside Housing reveals that councils are ready to scale up their housebuilding, the beancounters have struck again.