Originally published on January 30 on my blog for Inside Housing.
It is very easy to be cynical about this week’s final report from the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission report.
From the references to Kant to the plans for a fruit tree with every new house, Living with Beauty is full of the thinking you might expect from a group that was chaired by the late Sir Roger Scruton.
And it’s not hard to see how a system based on asking for beauty and refusing ugliness could result in the word ‘beautiful’ becoming as debased as ‘sustainable’ and ‘affordable’ by the time developers have worked out how to exploit it.
To cite one example that jars, the recommendations chapter of the report opens with a picture of Elephant Park in London, which may be an example of good design and greenery but is also the archetypal one of a community displaced in the name of ‘regeneration’ and social housing replaced by highly profitable market sale.
Yet for all that this is an important report that offers fresh support for attempts to move away from the speculative housebuilder model of development and replace it with a longer-term model that could put the meaning back into all three terms.
Originally published on December 27 on my blog for Inside Housing.
The second part of my look back at 2019 runs from welfare homelessness to decarbonisation via housebuilding and permitted development.
5) ‘The systematic immiseration of millions’
The election result means that universal credit, the benefit cap, the bedroom tax and all the other welfare ‘reforms’ of the last decade are set to continue into the 2020s.
Chancellor Sajid Javid told us in the September spending round that austerity is over but the only hard evidence of this was an extra £40m for discretionary housing payments and previous cuts are still baked in to the system.
The election had delayed a full spending review until 2020 but better news came in November as the Conservative manifesto confirmed an end to the four-year freeze in most working age benefits, including the local housing allowance.
It remains to be seen, though, whether the government will restore the broken link with rents. It’s also worth noting that Esther McVey, the self-styled architect of Blue Collar Conservatism, called for part of housing benefit to be diverted into Help to Buy during her brief tilt at the Tory leadership.
I blogged about the deeper impacts on the housing system in a post from the Housing Studies Association conference in May that highlighted research on the ‘housing trilemma’ facing social landlords between their social mission, business imperatives and the impacts on tenants.
And the same month brought a damning external review from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty that warned of ‘the systematic immiseration of millions’.
Professor Philip Alston noted ‘a striking and complete disconnect’ between the picture painted by ministers and what he had heard and seen from people across the UK.
As for the chief architect of it all, the year finished with the decade summed up in four words: Sir Iain Duncan Smith.
Originally posted on my blog for Inside Housing on November 14.
There was good news and bad news for the government in a new housing statistics out this week that illustrate the scale of the issues it still needs to address.
The good news is that housebuilding in England is up again: there were 241,000 net additional dwellings in 2018/19, an increase of 9% in the last 12 months and 93% in the last six years.
Net additional dwellings make up the government’s preferred measure of housing output and add together new build completions, conversions and change of use less demolitions.
That total is not just higher than at the previous peak of output before the financial crisis and credit crunch – it is also the highest total recorded since the government started collecting the data in this way in 1991/92.
Significantly, for the first time total net additions are higher than the 240,000 a year target that the last Labour government set in the wake of Kate Barker’s landmark review of housing supply in 2004
True, the big increase over the last six years also reflects just how low output had sunk in the wake of the credit crunch, and true a housing market downturn and recession in the building industry could yet derail progress.
However, with more recent council tax data indicating that annual output may now be over 250,000, the government’s target of 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s no longer looks completely outlandish.
Indeed, a separate report from the Home Builders Federation (HBF) estimates that planning permissions were issued for 380,000 new homes in England in the year to June.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick was quick to welcome the figures and make a campaigning point for the general election:
One more bit of good news is that the bulk of the net additions came from new build completions (213,660) rather than conversions of questionable quality (14,107 were delivered via permitted development, which was only a slight increase on 2017/18).
However, focussing purely on how many new homes were delivered does not tell us much about how the government is doing on other housing issues.
Originally posted on November 5 on my blog for Inside Housing.
The sad fate of (non) starter homes offers a lesson for politicians in the folly of making unworkable promises but it is one they seem unlikely ever to learn.
A report published on Tuesday by the National Audit Office (NAO) investigates what happened to one of the flagship promises made by the Conservatives in their 2015 election manifesto: ‘200,000 Starter Homes, which will be sold at a 20% discount and will be built exclusively for first-time buyers under the age of 40’.
Four and a half years later, the total number of completions is precisely zero and the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has not even laid the regulations in parliament that would enable any starter homes to be built.
So what has happened since the heady days of 2015, when the spending review allocated £2.3 billion to build the first 60,000 starter homes?
The NAO finds that the money was gradually diverted into other schemes to buy and remediate land: a total of around £450m was spent on sites but they ended up being developed for a mix of market sale and affordable homes.
What its report does not reveal is why. This, after all, was one of the key promises made by David Cameron’s Conservatives in 2015.