The long wait for meaningful reform of leasehold

Originally written as a column for Inside Housing.

Churchill was in no doubt that leasehold needs fundamental reform.

‘Who was more likely to be a contented citizen, the man who was a freeholder and who was in his property, or the man who was at the mercy of a colossal landowner?’ he asked in a Commons debate.

It says everything about the snail’s pace of progress on leasehold reform that the speaker was not Winston Churchill, the wartime leader and Conservative prime minister in the 1950s, nor even the more youthful Winston Churchill who was a radical land reformer as a Liberal MP in the 1910s.

Instead it was his father, Randolph Churchill, backing one of the first meaningful attempts at leasehold reform way back in 1884. Needless to say, the leasehold enfranchisement bill was blocked by a Conservative government full of property owners.

Flash forward 139 years and the same argument applies to almost five million leaseholders in England and Wales, the only two countries in the world that have still not abolished or radically reformed an archaic system that dates back to the Domesday Book.

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Modern methods, same old problems

Originally published as a column for Inside Housing.

If Britain’s biggest institutional investor can’t make it work, who can?

Not a medium-sized housing association, that’s for sure. Nor a leading partnership housebuilder. Not even a combination of England’s trendiest developer and Japan’s biggest housebuilder with support from the government’s housebuilding agency. 

I am, of course, talking about modern methods of construction (MMC) deployed at scale to build new homes. 

The shock announcement by Legal & General Modular Homes that it is ceasing production at its factory near Leeds is just the latest in a series of blows to the sector.

From the role that MMC played in what went wrong at Swan, to Countryside’s closure of its modular factory, to the collapse of House, the joint venture between Urban Splash, Sekisui House backed by Homes England, via a series of other bail-outs and closures, it’s becoming a depressingly familiar story.

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The parties start to set out their general election stall

Originally written as a column for Inside Housing.

If this week was a preview of what the main parties will be offering on housing at the next general election then it is probably best to look away now.

Perhaps the best that can be said is that, just as Thursday’s local elections only offer clues as to the outcome of next year’s big event, so the policies announced in the run-up to them may only be a taster of what’s still to come.

But that is being optimistic: otherwise we got some standard tropes from Labour about

home ownership and signals that the Conservatives could be about to reach back into their collection of greatest misses.

In a series of interviews on Sunday, Keir Starmer set out his ambition for Labour to be ‘the party of home ownership’:

This standard appeal to aspirational voters begs some obvious questions about how and what else.

Restoring targets for housebuilding recently scrapped by the Conservatives would be a good start and would come alongside existing Labour policies of ‘first dibs’ for local first-time buyers and a block on overseas buyers.

But whether that will be enough to generate 300,000 new homes a year (the targets hadn’t done that before they were scrapped) and whether even that will make homes more affordable must both be doubtful.

The following day (coincidence?) The Times reported that Rishi Sunak is putting Help to Buy ‘back on the table’ as a key plank in the campaign for a potential Conservative fifth term.

Government sources told the paper that the move could come in the Autumn Statement or the Spring Budget. ‘We cannot go into the next election without an offer for first-time buyers,’ said a minister. ‘We all know that homeowners are more likely to vote Conservative and we cannot cede this ground to Labour.’

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