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.
Originally published on November 23 on my blog for Inside Housing
Wednesday’s Autumn Statement by Philip Hammond is good news for housing on several different fronts.
First, at long last housing is being recognised as infrastructure. That’s important enough in itself but Mr Hammond went even further by pitching housing as part of the solution to the key economic problem of productivity.
Along with transport, digital communications and research and development, housing will be part of the chancellor’s £23bn National Productivity Investment Fund. In financial terms, accelerated construction, affordable housing and the new Housing Infrastructure Fund represent a third of the total cost.
Mr Hammond also named “the housing challenge” alongside the productivity gap and the imbalance in prosperity across the country as one of the economy’s long-term weaknesses.
Originally posted on October 6 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
What would ‘housing that works for everyone’ look like?
Housing was a constant theme running through the Conservative conference this week. Communities secretary Sajid Javid said it was his ‘number one priority’ and announced a new(ish) £2bn fund for accelerated construction on public land plus ‘further significant measures’ in a white paper in the Autumn.
Housing minister Gavin Barwell is said to have addressed 17 different fringe meetings on housing and continued his charm offensive with more sensible comments about the need to encourage all tenures and tone down the obsession with home ownership and starter homes.
And Theresa May herself singled out housing as one example of market failure that requires government intervention to create ‘a country that works for everyone’ and an economy where ‘everyone plays by the same rules’:
‘That’s why where markets are dysfunctional, we should be prepared to intervene. Where companies are exploiting the failures of the market in which they operate, where consumer choice is inhibited by deliberately complex pricing structures, we must set the market right.’
‘It’s just not right, for example, that half of people living in rural areas, and so many small businesses, can’t get a decent broadband connection.
‘It’s just not right that two thirds of energy customers are stuck on the most expensive tariffs.
‘And it’s just not right that the housing market continues to fail working people either.’
Originally published on September 27 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
Cuts in housing benefit are being blamed for a slump in the UK’s position in a European index of housing exclusion.
The UK was the biggest faller (down eight places) in the 2016 index and now ranks 20th out of 28 members of the European Union. The only countries doing worse than us are three in Southern Europe that were worst hit by the Eurozone crisis (Greece, Italy and Portugal) and five in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia).
That puts us behind not just Scandinavian countries with more generous welfare states but also the rest of Western Europe and even Eastern European nations like Croatia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Poland. The UK has the second biggest economy in the EU behind Germany.
Originally posted on May 9 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
The May elections have a common theme when it comes to housing: can the winners really do what they say?
From Sadiq Khan to Marvin Rees, from Nicola Sturgeon to Carwyn Jones and from council leaders all over England to the voters of St Ives, winning the elections last week was the easy bit. The hard work starts now.
I’ll start with the poll closest to me: the referendum in St Ives on a Neighbourhood Plan that will ban the building of new second homes that has brought national attention.
More than 80% of residents supported the plan last Thursday and it’s impossible not to sympathise. Around a quarter of the homes in St Ives are either second homes or holiday lets and the problem is even worse in other Cornish communities. That does not just price out locals it also means a lack of year-round residents that makes it hard to sustain vital services and infrastructure.
Originally posted on April 12 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
Otto von Bismarck famously said that laws are like sausages: it is better not to see how they are made.
One exception to the Iron Chancellor’s dictum could be the way that the UK House of Lords takes the distasteful raw ingredients of legislation and improves it with new recipes.
That was certainly the case on the first day of the report stage of the Housing and Planning Bill on Monday, which saw the government twice suffer major defeats and also make a significant concession on starter homes.
As the Bill now stands, this ‘cuckoo in the nest’ of affordable housing (as Lord Best memorably called it at the committee stage) has been cut down to size a bit: the discount will be repayable over 20 years rather than eight; and local authorities will have the flexibility to decide on local needs rather than targeting virtually all section 106 contributions as starter homes. The government also accepted another amendment that will exempt rural exceptions sites from the starter home requirement.
Ministers had already moved slightly on the discount period: the Bill originally said that starter home buyers would be able to sell without repaying any of the 20% discount after five years but a consultation proposes extending that to eight years with the discount tapering away over that period.
Originally posted on March 7 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
Campaigners gather in the capital city for a pre-election rally to call for decisive action on the housing crisis. Sound familiar?
But this is not Homes for Britain or London and it’s no longer March 2015. Instead this happened on Friday in Cardiff and it’s Homes for Wales.
The campaigns are clearly related – both are aimed at all the political parties, both are supported by a coalition of housing associations and other housing organisations – but there are differences too.
The Homes for Britain rally happened in a big hall with speakers from the housing world and beyond and from all the main political parties. For all the energy and enthusiasm of the day, it left itself open to the accusation that this was just another example of the sector gathering to congratulate itself about how wonderful it is.
In contrast, campaigners for Homes for Wales gathered on the steps of the Senedd Building in Cardiff Bay for speeches before marching through the streets of the capital for a rally in the heart of the pedestrianised city centre. For a couple of hours, shoppers could watch video messages from the political parties, Welsh celebrities such as Michael Sheen and people with personal experience of the housing crisis. Up to 700 people took part and it was the first housing march that anyone could remember in Wales. For more about the campaign see this piece by Kevin Howell.