Originally written on Tuesday October 18 (before the resignation of Liz Truss) as a column for Inside Housing.
Growth, growth, growth? Little survives of Trussonomics after a series of astonishing u-turns but in housing at least is still seems to be half-steam ahead.
Just two of the tax cuts announced by former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng in his statement last month and only because the legislation for them had already gone through parliament.
The scrapping of the health and social care levy obviously begs big questions about funding for both but the increase in stamp duty thresholds now looks even more of a spare part than it did at the time.
While stamp duty is fundamentally a bad tax because it inhibits transactions, cutting it without wider reform of property taxation benefits sellers more than buyers as savings are capitalised into higher prices.
Cutting it permanently now rules out what has always been the first lever the Treasury pulls in a housing market downturn: a stamp duty holiday.
Even on the Treasury’s own figures, it will only generate an extra 29,000 house moves a year. But the limited growth in the wider property sector this generates will come at a cost to the taxpayer of £7 billion over the next five years.
New chancellor Jeremy Hunt has signalled that ‘eye-watering decisions’ about spending cuts and tax rises are on the way, mortgage costs have soared since the not a Budget and the energy price guarantee is now only guaranteed until April.
With even the pensions triple lock not guaranteed, the battle that was already looming over the uprating of benefits next year will now be even more intense.
Further freezes in the benefit cap and – despite rising rents – local housing allowance look more likely with devastating consequences for poverty and homelessness.
All this will be the acid test of Hunt’s promised return to ‘core compassionate Conservative values’.
The implication of the fiscal position for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities must be that any budget that is not already nailed down is up for grabs.Read the rest of this entry »
Originally written as a column for Inside Housing.
If the Liz Truss government is serious about delivering growth and getting Britain moving then it has to be serious about housebuilding and planning reform.
The superficial signs are that it is: the promised programme of investment zones; promises of further reforms to boost housebuilding and home ownership in the Autumn; prime ministerial support for growth, growth and growth.
The underlying ideology shouts that it is: take a quick look at this briefing paper on housing from the Free Market Forum, an offshoot of the Institute of Economic Affairs whose parliamentary backers include Truss, chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, housing secretary Simon Clarke and housing and planning minister Lee Rowley.
But history still suggests a need for caution: exactly the same thing could have been said in 1983/84, 1988/89, 2010/11 and 2020/21, when Conservative ministers proposing planning liberalisation were thwarted by more cautious colleagues or rebellious backbenchers or both.
Because there are two poles of Conservatism: the libertarian, economic liberal one that is currently in the ascendancy and a social conservative one that sees green belts and planning regulations as a good way to conserve things.
Between those two poles, more pragmatic Tories recognise that they have to take account of both if they are to deliver more homes – and that their political success or failure in future could depend on that delivery.Read the rest of this entry »
So now we know. The way to tackle the affordability crisis is to pretend that it does not exist.
There is no official confirmation yet but the clear message from the Conservative Party conference is that radical planning reform and the attempt to force through new housebuilding in the least affordable parts of the country are both dead.
In their place are vague assurances that building more homes in the North will help both to level up the country and take the pressure off the South East.
It was there front and centre in Boris Johnson’s invitation in his conference speech to:
‘Look at this country from the air. Go on google maps, you can also see how much room there is to build the homes that young families need in this country, not on green fields, not just jammed in the South East, but beautiful homes on brownfield sites in places where homes make sense.’
The prime minister still talked about ‘fixing the broken housing market’ but that is no longer a goal to be achieved by building more homes in expensive areas but a means to a different end:
‘Housing in the right place at an affordable price will add massively not just to your general joie de vivre but to your productivity. And that is how we solve the national productivity puzzle by fixing the broken housing market by plugging in the gigabit, by putting in decent safe bus routes and all other transport infrastructure and by investing in skills, skills, skills and that by the way is how we help to cut the cost of living for everyone because housing, energy, transport are now huge parts of our monthly bills.’
There was more in the same vein and some guff about ‘the dream of home ownership’ but you get the picture. Needless to say he had nothing to say about fixing parts of the market that are most broken for tens of thousands of leaseholders stuck in dangerous and defective flats.Read the rest of this entry »
Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on September 23.
So it’s farewell to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and hello to the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
As rumoured last week, we have new brass plates and stationery to go with new secretary of state Michael Gove at Marsham Street and its new office in Wolverhampton.
So what’s the difference between MHCLG and DLUHC? First, and most obvious, is that top billing for levelling up, as DLUHC becomes the unpronounceable in pursuit of the undefinable.
Second, it’s worth remembering why the rebranding to MHCLG seemed so significant when it happened three and a half years and three secretaries of state ago.
It was not just the H in the title, it was the way it was a deliberate echo of the 1950s and 1960s, when the two main parties competed with each other to build more council houses, and Macmillan rather than Thatcher seemed the reference point for the Tories on housing.
Third, an important caveat to that: although relegated to second billing, housing is still there in the name, which is more than can be said for its predecessors since the 1970s.
Within a department with significant extra responsibilities (not just levelling up but preserving the union as well) housing is at least still a priority of sorts. Local government has disappeared.Read the rest of this entry »
Originally written as a column for Inside Housing.
So it’s farewell to Robert Jenrick and time to ‘welcome’ a new housing secretary in Michael Gove.
The removal of Mr Jenrick is not a great surprise given a record that includes Westferry, failure to fix the building safety crisis and a flagship policy on planning reform that seems to be sinking.
Still more so when he ranked third bottom in Conservative Home’s survey of grassroots Tories on how they see members of the Cabinet. Only Gavin Williamson (sacked) and Amanda Milling (demoted) were less popular than him.
But he also got more money out of the Treasury for building safety than either of his two predecessors and that unpopularity may deserve more respect if it was based on nimby opposition to his planning reform agenda to deliver more homes
The former housing secretary was an early supporter of Boris Johnson and was loyal to the point of defending government policies on the Sunday morning talk shows that were scrapped in u-turns an hour later.
But loyalty is not always what counts in politics and as if to prove the point he is replaced by Michael Gove, the man who famously stabbed Johnson in the back in the 2016 Tory leadership contest.
The former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is the longest-serving current cabinet minister and brings with him cross-departmental clout that will include driving forward the manifesto commitments to deliver 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s and end rough sleeping by the end of this parliament
He was the shadow housing minister before Grant Shapps so he will be familiar with the issues and the main players and he will get an early reminder today of the biggest new issue in his in-tray when leaseholders and building safety campaigners hold a rally in Westminster.
However, such an apparently known quantity still leaves plenty of questions about what his priorities will be and he retains a capacity to surprise (not least on the dance floor).
He comes with a reputation for delivery forged in the Cabinet Office but while some of this morning’s papers see his new job as central to the government’s mission to level up, others see it as a demotion or disappointment compared to his hopes of higher office.Read the rest of this entry »