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 as a column for Inside Housing on January 10.
What’s in a name? Only time will tell how important the change of departmental moniker will be but it was surely the minimum that Theresa May needed to do to show that housing now ranks as a top priority for her government.
The man in charge may still be the same (Sajid Javid) but both the creation of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the order of the words in the title are significant.
By my reckoning this is the first time since 1970 that the word ‘housing’ has appeared in the title of the organisation and the secretary of state responsible for it.
In the 38 years since the Ministry of Housing and Local Government was abolished to create the Department of the Environment the name has been changed again and again to reflect different briefs and priorities.
Between Peter Walker back in 1970 and Sajid Javid in 2018 we’ve had 28 different housing ministers of middle and junior rank, a handful of them with the right to attend Cabinet but not vote in it.
Originally posted as a column for Inside Housing on December 22.
As in 2016, it seemed like nothing would ever be the same again after a momentous event halfway through the year.
The horrific Grenfell Tower fire on June 14 means that the headline on this column should really have read ‘nine other things about 2017’. Just as the Brexit voted has changed everything in politics, so it is almost impossible to see anything in housing except through the prism of that awful night.
That said, 2017 was another year of momentous change for housing, one that brought a few signs of hope too. Here’s the first of my two-part review of what I was writing about.
Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on August 29.
‘What makes the housing crisis so maddening is that there is a simple solution: Britain needs to get building.’
So ran a tweet a couple of weeks ago from The Economist about an article on How to Solve Britain’s Crisis. Unleash the market, build on the green belt and, hey presto, the housing crisis is over.
In fairness, the article’s proposition was a bit more complicated than the tweet implied – it also proposed reform of stamp duty and council tax – but it is still an illustration of the way that ‘simple solutions’ plague our thinking about housing.
What I mean by that is that there may well be good arguments that can be made for building on the green belt, or rent control, or building a million council houses, or prefabrication or any of the other quick fixes that are routinely trotted out.
It’s certainly hard to see a solution that does not involve more homes, better conditions for private renters, a greater role for local authorities and innovations in construction.
However, it’s quite different when one of them is proposed as the solution. Usually this is by one of the ‘unleash the market’ brigade who believe that the housing crisis is all down to planning.
Originally posted on May 18 on my blog for Inside Housing.
This is a Conservative manifesto with only two firm targets on housing but lots of interesting hints about future direction and some intriguing omissions.
The first target is to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it completely by 2027 by implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act and piloting a Housing First approach.
The 2022 target may seem bold but it would mean that rough sleeping would still be significantly higher than it was in 2010 when the coalition came to power.
The one for 2027 is incredibly ambitious and would mean matching Finland’s incredible record on homelessness within ten years.
Sajid Javid obviously returned fired up from his visit to Helsinki but you wonder if he took on board just how comprehensive and well-funded the Finnish version of Housing First needed to be to work.
The second target is ‘meet our 2015 commitment to deliver a million homes by the end of 2020 and we will deliver half a million more by the end of 2022’.
The first bit is unambitious and should be achievable, especially as the end point has been shifted from May 2020 (the original end of the parliament) to December 2020.
As the National Audit Office pointed out in January, that would actually mean that fewer new homes will be built over the next three years than were achieved last year. This is on the basis of the net additional supply of homes rather than just housebuilding completions.
The second bit is a different matter. A quick look at the net supply figures shows that there have only been three years in the last 25 when we have exceeded 200,000.