Originally written as a column for Inside Housing.
Around £50 billion worth of austerity looks inevitable in next week’s Autumn Statement but it remains to be seen how chancellor Jeremy Hunt will strike the balance between spending cuts and tax rises.
Even if recent reports that suggest he will increase benefits and pensions in line with prices prove to be correct, there are still big questions over local housing allowance (still frozen despite rising rents) and the benefit cap (which will catch thousands more tenants if the thresholds stay frozen) and housing budgets already eroded by inflation look vulnerable to cuts in capital spending.
On tax, the stamp duty cut was one of the few measures proposed in the mini-Budget in September that has survived the demise of Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng. So far at least.
But there has been very little debate about where the tax burden should really fall, and in particular about the balance between taxes on income and taxes on wealth.Read the rest of this entry »
Originally published on January 15 as a blog for Inside Housing.
Robert Jenrick and Esther McVey faced their first parliamentary questions as housing secretary and housing minister on Monday – almost six months after they took up their posts.
The reasons for the remarkable delay to their despatch box debuts – the summer recess, Brexit and the December election – are not hard to guess and are also why housing has slipped down the political agenda in the meantime.
But, give or take the odd appearance in parliamentary debates and in front of select committees, the delay also means that we still have only a fuzzy picture of what they really think about the key issues stacking up in their in-trays.
And it came in the wake of a report in the Daily Mail over the weekend about an apparent clash between the two over where the government should spend its housing cash and which voters they should be targeting.
Originally published on July 24 on my blog for Inside Housing.
The government has wasted a ‘once-in-a generation opportunity’ to tackle the housing crisis by failing to develop a strategy for disposing of public land.
That’s the damning verdict on the much-vaunted Public Land for Housing Programme from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this morning (Wednesday).
The MPs find that by 2020 the government will have sold land for just 69,000 of the 160,000 homes it promised in England between 2015 and 2020 – and even that estimate relies on some heroic assumptions about progress over the next 12 months.
A second target to deliver £5 billion of receipts from the sale of surplus public land over the same period will be met – but only because of the £1.5 bn sale of Network Rail’s railway arches in February that was not part of the original programme.
When you consider that is happening in the middle of a housing crisis and in the wake of an austerity drive that has been closing public services around the country, that is an abject failure.
And those headline figures only tell part of a story that has an ever bigger failure to deliver affordable housing at the heart of it.
Originally posted as a blog for Inside Housing on June 19 – updated June 21.
Beneath the surface of a Conservative leadership battle dominated by Brexit and Boris Johnson there is a battle of ideas about the future direction of Conservative housing policy.
Put at its simplest, the battle is about whether to continue in the pragmatic direction signalled by Theresa May since 2016 or go back to the more ideological one taken by David Cameron before then.
But scratch a little deeper there are more fundamental debates going on about how far to go in fixing a housing market that most Tories agree has turned into an electoral liability for them.
Key questions such as how far the government should go in borrowing to invest in new homes and intervening in the private rented sector and the land market are back on the Conservative agenda.
Originally published on March 13 as a blog for Inside Housing.
With Brexit dominating everything, the Spring Statement seems at first glance to be just as underwhelming as the chancellor hoped when he moved the main Budget event of the year to the Autumn.
The most eye-catching details from usual array of announcements and re-announcements on housing includes are £3bn Affordable Housing Guarantee Scheme to support 30,000 homes and a proposal to ban fossil fuel heating systems in new homes from 2025.
But to add to the sense of Brexit drift, the first re-introduces a coalition scheme that lowered borrowing costs for housing associations but was abolished in 2015 while the second does something to address climate change but will be arriving nine years later than the zero carbon homes that were scrapped by the coalition.
Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on December 17.
As housing has risen up the political and media agendas, so the shelves are filling with books explaining where we’ve gone wrong and what we could do to put things right.
Reflecting that, and just in time for anyone wondering what to get the housing nerd in their life for Christmas, here are my three housing books of the year.
First up is John Boughton’s indispensable history of council housing, Municipal Dreams – The Rise and Fall of Council Housing.
It’s a predictable choice and one already made by many other reviewers but it is one that is better late than never and one that will be even more worth reading next year against the background of the centenary of Homes Fit for Heroes.
Originally posted on my blog for Inside Housing on December 11.
As Westminster grinds to a halt over Brexit at least some progress is still being made on housing – or is it?
In the year of the social housing green paper and the end of the borrowing cap, some things have undoubtedly moved but the signs at Housing Communities and Local Government questions on Monday were that others are grinding to a halt.
First up was the land question and specifically the way that MHCLG dashed hopes of radical reform of land value capture in its response to a Housing Communities and Local Government Committee report recommending big changes to a system that sees planning permission for housing increase the value of agricultural land by 100 times.
Originally posted on my blog for Inside Housing on September 24.
While all eyes were on the prime minister’s speech at the National Housing Summit you may have missed news that landowners are now making an astonishing £13 bn a year pre-tax profit just from getting planning permission for housing.
That is the estimate in a new report from the Centre for Progressive Policy (CPP) and the National Housing Federation (NHF) published on the same day as Theresa May was telling housing associations what they wanted to hear.
The £13 bn profit made by landowners in England in 2016/17 is up £4 bn on 2014/15 thanks to a huge increase in residential land values in the last two years.
Seen from one end of the telescope, that was already more than the profits of the entire UK housebuilding industry and it is now more than the global profits of Amazon, Coca Cola and McDonald’s combined.
But the impact can also be seen from the other end of the telescope, with housing association after housing association quoting examples of where they have been outbid by private developers for land.
The sites are often public land but individual associations report examples of developers who bid a higher price than them only to do nothing with it or sell it on for a profit shortly afterwards.
Originally published on September 13 on my blog for Inside Housing.
How does land worth £21,000 or £482,000 per hectare suddenly become worth £1.95m? And who should get the windfall?
The answer to the first question is, of course, when agricultural or industrial land is granted planning permission for residential use (all three figures are estimates in government statistics).
The answer to the second is much more complicated – getting it right could boost construction of new homes and provide a new source of funds for infrastructure and affordable housing; getting it wrong could destroy incentives for landowners to bring land forward and mean housebuilding dries up.
Now the all-party Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has published a report on an issue that has a long history dating back to Winston Churchill’s criticism of the ‘unearned increment’ made by landowners following public investment in infrastructure – and even right back to Henry VIII.
Support for reform has grown across the political spectrum and even the last Conservative manifesto promised to ‘work with private and public sector housebuilders’ on the issue.
Supporters note, correctly, that the success of the post-war new towns was based on their ability to buy land at existing use value and use the uplift to fund infrastructure but that all this was stymied by legislation such as the 1961 Land Compensation Act that entitled landowners to the ‘hope value’ after their land is developed.
At the same time history is littered with examples of governments introducing uplift levies and tariffs and supplements that failed to deliver and sceptical landowners and housebuilders argue that reform will be prove much more complicated than supporters make out.