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.
Originally published on November 30 on my blog for Inside Housing.
If you listened to the chancellor’s speech you may have thought this was a Budget that did not mean much for housing. As ever you may think again after reading the small print.
As I live blogged for Inside Housing yesterday, the big news in the speech was the extra money for universal credit that makes up for many of the cuts imposed in universal credit and delays the roll-out yet again and sounds like it will be enough to avoid a backbench Tory rebellion.
Elsewhere, Philip Hammond found £2.8 bn to bring forward cuts in income tax allowances by a year but he failed to find roughly half that to scrap the final year of the freeze in most working age benefits including the local housing allowance.
This was a clear political choice to go for tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit the better-off over benefits that go to the poorest households.
Ahead of the next spending review, numbers crunched by the Resolution Foundation overnight suggest that the squeeze on everything apart from health will continue well into the 2020s.
However, the most interesting developments for housing came in the background documents published as Mr Hammond sat down.
Originally posted on May 8 on my blog for Inside Housing.
New rules making it easier to convert offices into residential property have generated more than 30,000 new homes in the last two years – but at what cost?
A report published last week that deserves more attention took a detailed look at what has happened in five areas of England since the system was deregulated in 2013.
The study for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors also compares the experiences of Glasgow and Rotterdam, which have also seen office to residential conversions without the same deregulation.
The English reforms extended the system of permitted development, allowing developers to apply for prior approval rather than planning permission and making it much easier for them to push office to residential conversions through the system.
This is not a total free-for-all – some local authorities have successfully applied for exemptions for some areas and it is still possible to apply for new ones – but it is a significant relaxation that is meant to deliver more homes.
When former communities secretary Eric Pickles first introduced the new system he said that:
‘By unshackling developers from a legacy of bureaucratic planning we can help them turn thousands of vacant commercial properties into enough new homes to jump start housing supply.’
The scheme was first introduced for three years from May 2013, then made permanent from April 2016.
At first glance the results seem to bear out Pickles’s hopes and look impressive in terms the contribution to the government’s plans to move towards 300,000 net additional dwellings a year.
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 November 13.
More than ever before, this year’s Budget looks like a watershed moment for housing.
Philip Hammond is under mounting pressure from all sides to do something big and bold and break with the failed policies of the past.
The calls for something radical are coming from more than just the usual suspects and are for more than just a cheque with lots of zeros.
Conservative MPs know that they cling to power (just) thanks to the votes of elderly home owners. Brexit may dominate everything but many of them realise that beneath the surface housing is one of the key issues poisoning their relationship with the under-45s.
They understand that cynical policies like Help to Buy are no longer enough, that the party is running out of time and that it has to look at policies that were previously unthinkable.
Yet conventional wisdom says that we’ve heard all this before, that Hammond’s caution and the Treasury’s orthodoxy will turn thinking that was big and bold into outcomes that are tame and timid on November 22.
After the announcements in the last few weeks of an extra £10bn for Help to Buy, another £2bn for social housing and the u-turn on the LHA cap for social and supported housing, how much is left for the chancellor to say (or spend)?
However, another view says that the housing question has such serious social, economic and political implications that the answers cannot be put off any longer. See this blog by Toby Lloyd for a good round-up of some possibilities.
In a series of columns ahead of the Budget, I’ll be looking at some of the crucial questions concerning investment, tax and welfare and, to kick things off, land. Will the Budget be big and bold – or tame and timid?
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.