Originally written on Tuesday October 18 (before the resignation of Liz Truss) as a column for Inside Housing.
Growth, growth, growth? Little survives of Trussonomics after a series of astonishing u-turns but in housing at least is still seems to be half-steam ahead.
Just two of the tax cuts announced by former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng in his statement last month and only because the legislation for them had already gone through parliament.
The scrapping of the health and social care levy obviously begs big questions about funding for both but the increase in stamp duty thresholds now looks even more of a spare part than it did at the time.
While stamp duty is fundamentally a bad tax because it inhibits transactions, cutting it without wider reform of property taxation benefits sellers more than buyers as savings are capitalised into higher prices.
Cutting it permanently now rules out what has always been the first lever the Treasury pulls in a housing market downturn: a stamp duty holiday.
Even on the Treasury’s own figures, it will only generate an extra 29,000 house moves a year. But the limited growth in the wider property sector this generates will come at a cost to the taxpayer of £7 billion over the next five years.
New chancellor Jeremy Hunt has signalled that ‘eye-watering decisions’ about spending cuts and tax rises are on the way, mortgage costs have soared since the not a Budget and the energy price guarantee is now only guaranteed until April.
With even the pensions triple lock not guaranteed, the battle that was already looming over the uprating of benefits next year will now be even more intense.
Further freezes in the benefit cap and – despite rising rents – local housing allowance look more likely with devastating consequences for poverty and homelessness.
All this will be the acid test of Hunt’s promised return to ‘core compassionate Conservative values’.
The implication of the fiscal position for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities must be that any budget that is not already nailed down is up for grabs.Read the rest of this entry »
Originally written as a column for Inside Housing.
If the Liz Truss government is serious about delivering growth and getting Britain moving then it has to be serious about housebuilding and planning reform.
The superficial signs are that it is: the promised programme of investment zones; promises of further reforms to boost housebuilding and home ownership in the Autumn; prime ministerial support for growth, growth and growth.
The underlying ideology shouts that it is: take a quick look at this briefing paper on housing from the Free Market Forum, an offshoot of the Institute of Economic Affairs whose parliamentary backers include Truss, chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, housing secretary Simon Clarke and housing and planning minister Lee Rowley.
But history still suggests a need for caution: exactly the same thing could have been said in 1983/84, 1988/89, 2010/11 and 2020/21, when Conservative ministers proposing planning liberalisation were thwarted by more cautious colleagues or rebellious backbenchers or both.
Because there are two poles of Conservatism: the libertarian, economic liberal one that is currently in the ascendancy and a social conservative one that sees green belts and planning regulations as a good way to conserve things.
Between those two poles, more pragmatic Tories recognise that they have to take account of both if they are to deliver more homes – and that their political success or failure in future could depend on that delivery.Read the rest of this entry »