Housing an ageing population

Originally published on February 24 on my blog for Inside Housing.

There is arguably no more important housing issue facing the UK than how we accommodate our ageing population but are we ready to face up to it?

The question is prompted by a combination of recent events including publication of the Housing White Paper, the crisis in social care and the NHS and the consultation on funding for supported housing.

Lurking further in the background than it should be is the mismatch between the stock of homes and likely future demand for them. We will need homes that we don’t currently have for people who are living longer and will need more manageable accommodation with access to more care. Because we don’t have those homes, older people will continue to live in homes that are too big and inflexible for them but would be perfect for young families.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

The taxing problem of property

If you think the row over business rates is bad, imagine for a moment what would happen if council tax went through a revaluation.

As I’m writing this, some sort of government climbdown seems inevitable after weeks of press coverage of the rates increases faced by shops and other small businesses.

Some of the furore seems justified. The business rates system seems stuck in the past, unable to cope with out-of-town supermarkets let alone internet retailers and almost seems designed to destroy High Street businesses. There are cliff edges built into the system, especially at the bottom end. It’s not clear why farms are exempt but hospitals are not. Exemptions for empty and unused property create incentives to keep it empty.

Much of it is not. The journalists reporting from the mean streets of Maidenhead and Weybridge seem much less inclined to travel to Merthyr or Wakefield to talk to people whose business rates will be cut. The government maintains that this is a revaluation with no net increase in the tax (though some Tory MPs dispute this). That means the benefits will be felt where they should be: in less affluent areas.

Read the rest of this entry »


The limits of consensus

Originally posted on February 21 on my blog for Inside Housing.

Two weeks on from the Housing White Paper and a consensus is developing around many of its recommendations – but how long will it survive contact with the real world?

A big test for Gavin Barwell came on Monday at the annual lecture for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). While it would be unfair to characterise the organisation as England’s nimbys-in-chief, its members are not shy in holding politicians and developers to account, especially when it comes to the green belt.

The housing minister was joined on a panel by Shaun Spiers of the CPRE, Kate Henderson of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) and Toby Lloyd of Shelter. If that did not quite represent all sides of the debate – a house builder would surely have proved too much for the blood pressure of many in the audience – it certainly brought many of them together in one place. Full marks to the CPRE for opening the event up to a wider audience via Facebook (housing organisations, please take note).

Read the rest of this entry »


Marks out of 10 for the housing white paper

Originally published on February 10 on my blog for Inside Housing.

So have Gavin Barwell and Sajid Javid finally grapsed the nettle on the housing crisis?

Critics lined up to call the white paper a damp squib, a white flag and (my personal favourite) like a wet Tuesday in Bognor. Some had even read it first.

Supporters called it a pragmatic shift away from policy under David Cameron and ‘a blueprint for change’. And there was the inevitable ‘cautious welcome’ from housing organisations.

In some ways, the responses of two of the architects of previous Conservative housing policies were the most interesting ones. Former housing minister Grant Shapps said previous plans had not made much difference and this one probably wouldn’t either. Former No 10 adviser Alex Morton revealed the cynical political calculation at the heart of previous policy when he warned that ‘if you get dragged into an argument about renting versus owning, it will quickly become about the need for more council homes’.

Read the rest of this entry »


Has the White Paper fixed it?

Originally published on February 7 on my blog for Inside Housing. 

As the advance press coverage showed, this is a White Paper with few big ideas but maybe that is no bad thing when you consider the ones that emerged the last time the government presented us with a range of ‘bold’ and ‘radical’ reforms.

The extension of the Right to Buy to housing association tenants, forced sales of higher-value council homes and Starter Homes have cast such a dark shadow over affordable housing for the past two years that they make a bit of timidity seem almost welcome.

I’ll come back to the White Paper as a whole another time. You can argue it’s a flimsy response to the housing crisis and there are sections that make you wonder if they’ve been watered down, but it does make a series of subtle changes with the potential at least to change the balance of power in housebuilding.

And there are two new ideas that are definitely worth welcoming: publication of information on land ownership and options over land, and allowing local authorities to participate in German-style land pooling for new development.

For now, though, I want to concentrate on the affordable housing side of the equation and what happened to those three big ideas that have dominated so much of the debate (and my blogs) since 2015.

Read the rest of this entry »