Originally published on March 13 on my blog for Inside Housing.
So, with unintentional irony, the inquiry into why it takes so long to get new homes built is itself taking longer than expected.
For all the advance speculation and ministerial statements in the last few days, the Letwin Review of build-out rates was not published alongside today’s Spring Statement.
Instead the former Conservative Cabinet minister published a four-page letter offering housing secretary Sajid Javid an interim update on the work of the inquiry focusing on what is happening on large sites operated by large housebuilders.
A ‘draft analysis’ will follow by the end of June offering a description of the problem and its causes but final recommendations will only be made in time for the Budget in November.
In truth, expectations that Letwin would be able to offer instant solutions within a few months were always likely to be dashed – not that this stopped ministers from pre-emoting it with warnings to housebuilders to ‘do their duty’ in the planning announcements last week.
Perhaps significantly, the draft update has only one mention of the supposedly crucial issue of ‘land banks’, the nefarious practice by which housebuilders allegedly hoard land with planning permission until they can make the most money.
However, Letwin rejects most of their usual excuses too – everything from shortages of labour, materials and capital to problems with transport infrastructure, utility connections and constrained logistics on site.
He argues instead that the ‘fundamental driver of build out rates once detailed planning permission is granted for large sites appears to be the “absorption rate”.’
This is ‘the rate at which newly constructed homes can be sold into (or are believed to be sold successfully into) the local market without materially disturbing the market price’.
Originally published on my blog for Inside Housing on March 5.
Theresa May is a politician with a gift for saying the right things but somehow in the wrong way.
I’m thinking here not just of the obvious examples such as the ‘nothing had changed during the election campaign’ and the collapsing lettering of ‘Building a Britain that Works for Everyone’ during her Conservative conference speech last year. She does it even when she is most in control of what she is saying.
She did it in her first speech as prime minister when she dedicated herself to tackling ‘burning injustices’ but only succeeded in drawing attention to the fact they were the legacy of the previous six years of Conservative rule.
She did it on Friday when her big speech on Brexit rightly pointed out that ‘we can’t have everything’ only to prompt a German journalist to ask ‘is it all worth it?’.
And she did it again in her speech on Monday launching the new version of the National Planning Policy Framework.
Originally published on my blog for Inside Housing on February 16.
Housing is so often presented as a story of inequality between the generations but what about inequality within generations?
Analysis published on Friday by the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirms the familiar story of the collapse of home ownership among younger people that has been accompanied by a surge in private renting and adults still living with their parents into their late 20s and early 30s.
The IFS briefing concentrates on people aged 25-34, exactly the age group who could once have been expecting to take their first step on to the housing ladder.
The collapse has obviously been biggest in London but home ownership rates have fallen even in the cheapest regions like the North East and Cumbria.
Originally posted for Inside Housing on February 13.
When you’re used to seeing things up close sometimes it makes sense to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
Just such a macro look at housing comes in the latest episode of one of my favourite podcasts.
This week’s episode of Talking Politics is about what it calls ‘the fundamentals’, the factors that influence the politics of voters’ everyday that seem to outside the control of the politicians
The discussion starts with two propositions that are startling not just in themselves but also because they come from Cambridge academics who are more used to talking about Brexit and Trump than housing affordability and housebuilding.
The first is that housing is more politically important to the government than the NHS. Following on from that, the second is that if Jeremy Corbyn wins the next election housing will be the main reason why.