Originally published on July 1 as a column for Inside Housing.
It was less ‘build, build, build’ than ‘blah, blah, blah’, less New Deal than reheated old announcements.
They arrived to a chorus of calls for greater investment, Homes for Heroes and a warning from Shelter and Savills that output of new homes will fall by 85,000 this year because of the pandemic, with just 4,300 for social rent.
In that context, the prime minister sank to the occasion and even managed to imply that the Affordable Homes Programme will be cut.
Where the Budget in March had promised £12.2 billion over the next five years, Johnson said it will now run over eight. Taken at face value that means a cut of 38 per cent from £2.4 billion a year to £1.5 billion.
That would be roughly the same annual commitment as in the current AHP and would represent a slap in the face for everyone who has campaigned for or needs an affordable home.
Not so, fast, though. No 10 soon clarified that when he said eight years he was actually talking about the three-year time lag for homes to be built after the end of the programme. Social Housing was given the slightly different line that the extra three years applies only to the £2 bn strategic partnerships announced in September 2018.
Originally posted as a column for Inside Housing on June 29.
A cartoon in a national newspaper last week showed a pig about to dive into a trough from a springboard marked ‘Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government’ saying ‘I declare this development officially open’.
It was an indication if any were needed of how the Westferry Printworks affair has left the impression that the planning system is a ‘Tory funny money’ game of Monopoly (another cartoon two days later).
Richard Desmond’s £12,000 donation to the Conservatives may be small change but the timing shortly after housing secretary Robert Jenrick approved his plans for a £1 billion housing development still stinks.
It leaves the housing secretary looking – in the most generous interpretation of events – naïve in his dealings with the billionaire.
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 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 posted on February 19 as a blog for Inside Housing.
Listening to a new Radio 4 documentary about Parker Morris and space standards it is impossible not to feel a mix of nostalgia for an era of housing optimism and sadness that our ambitions have shrunk so much since.
As John Grindrod relates in Living Room, the title of the 1961 report was an indication that it was about much more than just a technical exercise in allocating space per person.
Work on Homes for Today and Tomorrow started 60 years ago this year but it was building on a 20th century council housing tradition that began 100 years ago and it was also looking to the future to ensure that homes were fit for it.
‘A good house or flat can never be made out of premises which are too small,’ said the report, which set out a much greater ambition for new homes:
‘An increasing proportion of people are coming to expect their home to do more than just fulfil the basic requirement. It must be something of which they can be proud and in which they can express the fulness of their lives.’
Originally published on February 11 as a blog for Inside Housing.
Can the government meet its target of 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s?
The target was announced to some scepticism in the 2017 Budget and a report just out from the National Audit Office (NAO) says with some under-statement that it will be ‘challenging to meet’.
In detail, the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) commitment is to ‘support the delivery of a million homes by the end of 2020 and half a million more by the end of 2022 and put us on track to deliver 300,000 net additional homes a year on average’.
That means net additional homes so it includes conversions and change of use (less demolitions) as well as new building.
Statistics showing a 78% increase in homes on this measure since the low point of 2012/13 (from 125,000 to 222,000) certainly suggest that it is possible.
However, recovery from the credit crunch is one thing, an increase from more normal times quite another, and the annual increase slowed to just 2% in 2017/18.
Originally published on January 23 on insidehousing.co.uk.
Shrinkflation made the headlines this week as government statisticians highlighted the way that food manufacturers reduce the size of their packets rather than put up the price of their products.
Most commonly seen in bread and cereals, it means you now get 10 Jaffa Cakes where you used to get 12.
But another news story got me wondering about whether the same thing could happen in housing.
‘Micro-homes could solve London’s housing crisis,’ said a BBC headline based on a new report from the Adam Smith Institute.