Planting seeds

Originally published on January 3 on my blog for Inside Housing.

Two major housing announcements before most people have gone back to work sets some sort of record even by recent standards.

Late on Monday the government confirmed the go-ahead for the first of “thousands” of Starter Homes to be sold at a 20% discount to first-time buyers aged between 23 and 40. And on Monday morning, the government named 17 sites for new garden villages and garden towns. If only it were as easy to build homes as it is to put out press releases on a bank holiday.

I’ll come back to Starter Homes soon. But first off, those 17 garden towns and villages. As far as it goes, the idea is a welcome acknowledgement of the need for radical action to build more new homes.

But the emphasis on them being “locally led” only underlines the desperate need for national leadership if the response to the housing crisis is to go beyond leaving it to the market with a few extra bits tacked on around the edges.

As it is, Monday’s first government announcement of the year is eerily reminiscent of the “radical new policy shift” promised by David Cameron 12 months ago: initiatives that are promising in themselves and get media coverage but do not go remotely far enough to make any real difference.

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10 things about 2014: part 2

The final part of my look back at the issues I’ve been blogging about this year also looks forward to 2015.

6) Maybe to homes

If words were bricks the housing crisis would have been over long ago. Instead housebuilding continued to flatline in 2014 even as the political rhetoric soared.

In January I compared politicians arguing about who had the worst record since the 1920s to bald men squabbling over a comb. A month later Eric Pickles perfected his combover by claiming that in 2013 the coalition had built the most homes since 2007. He’d chosen to emphasise housing starts rather than housing completions. That was understandable but you can’t live in a start and completions were lower than in 2012, 2011, 2009 and 2008 and still less than half the level needed to meet demand.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing


Lyons made

The Lyons Review is the most significant report on new housing supply in years but it’s much more convincing on private sector housebuilding than social housing.

Lyons picks up where Barker left off on housing in 2004 (and on planning in 2007) but with two added bits of context. First, we’ve gone backwards in the last ten years: annual output is around half what we needed and the backlog of unmet need is mounting by the day. Second, any solutions have to operate under severe political and financial constraints.

So anyone reading the report whose priority is more social housing will come away disappointed with the recommendations for a future Labour government. There will be no change in the borrowing rules for council housing and no increase in the borrowing caps except for potential swapping between authorities. The case for continuing and increased grant subsidy is accepted but subject to overall constraints on public spending in which social housing will be an unspecified ‘priority’ for more money.

And anyone hoping for a shift in the political obsession with aspiration and ownership rather than homes will already have been disappointed by the advance coverage. The Labour Party’s spin has been all about first-time buyers and ‘homes for locals’ even though they get relatively minor mentions in the report itself.

However, as with the launch setting of Milton Keynes the report offers solid grounds for optimism too. Here at last is consensus on a long-term strategy in place of the short-term gimmicks we’ve seen ever since the financial crisis.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Home front

With eight months to go until the general election the battle to influence the manifestos has begun in earnest.

Party conference season begins with Labour on September 21 but organisations from across the housing spectrum have been publishing manifestos of their own in a bid to reach the politicians.

Conservative Home (see my blog here) was early out of the blocks but the influential Tory website has been followed by the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) and Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in the last week. The Fabian Society has just published a report last week on the ‘silent majority’ in favour of more social housing. The National Housing Federation (NHF) is set to reveal its election plans at its conference next week.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


About time

Sellafield. Parental help. Mortgages lasting 40 years. Welcome to housing affordability in the 21st century.

Exhibit one is a survey by the TUC comparing median house prices and earnings in local authority areas across England. It finds that Copeland in Cumbria, home of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing facility, is the only one that is easily affordable on less than three times earnings. Nowhere in southern England is affordable at less than five times earnings.

Exhibit two is an opinion poll of parents conducted by the National Housing Federation. It finds that 81 per cent of parents are worried about the impact of rising house prices on the next generation, 69 per cent think their children will not be able to buy without their financial support and 25 per cent are already saving for their children’s first home.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Going the extra mile

How far should the government go to buy off local opposition to new garden cities?

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said over the weekend that ministers would consider options including council tax reductions and house price guarantees to ensure that local communities do not lose out. He told the BBC’s Countryfile programme (watch from about eight minutes in): ‘What I’m saying is we’re actively looking at things like that to show that we will go the extra mile to allay those concerns of people who feel that their property, or the price of their home, might be affected. We don’t want people to lose out.’

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Gardeners’ question time

Just about everyone agrees that we need to build new garden cities – but that’s the easy bit. What comes next?

I’ve just been looking at the five entries shortlisted last week for the Wolfson Economics Prize. There were 274 other entries, which may be a product of the £250,000 on offer to the winner but also reflects an idea whose time has come (again). There now seems to be a remarkable acceptance right across the political spectrum that garden cities are an important part of the solution to the housing crisis (even though the prize itself is put up by a Conservative peer and administered by Policy Exchange).

vision

But what is a garden city? Should we build new Letchworths or Welwyns in a 21st century fulfilment of Ebenezer Howard’s vision pictured above? Is it a vaguer commitment to sustainable development? Or it is more of a marketing term and a signal of what it is not for Conservatives (a new town or, even worse, an eco-town)?

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing