Originally published as a column on insidehousing.co.uk on April 15.
From Brexit to just about anything else you care to mention, Boris Johnson is known for wanting to ‘have his cake and eat it’. Why should it be any different for housing?
That was the first thought that sprung to mind reading through a raft of recent government responses to consultations. Much like the social housing green and white papers, they try to face in two different directions at once.
One points towards the more tenure-neutral territory staked out under Theresa May. The other points backwards to the promised land of home ownership staked out by David Cameron, the former prime minister turned PR man for failed bankers.
Both are evident in the outcome of consultations on the new model for shared ownership, changes to the current planning system and First Homes, supporting housing delivery and public service infrastructure and use of receipts from Right to Buy sales in the run-up to Easter.
So we get the expansion of permitted development to cover the conversion of most empty commercial buildings, not just offices, into residential. This may mean more ‘units’ but with too few constraints on quality to be regarded as ‘homes’.
Plans for reform of shared ownership include confirmation that landlords will be liable for repairs for the first 10 years on new homes but no acknowledgement that this leaves existing tenant-owners living in devalued assets.
There are plans to give existing as well as new shared owners the statutory right to a lease of 990 rather than 99 years but no fresh solutions for those left out of government help for fire safety costs or forced to take out £50 a month loans.
Reductions in the minimum initial stake and staircasing threshold meet commitments previously made by housing secretary Robert Jenrick without any real evidence supporting them.
Changes to the current planning system include a welcome u-turn on a proposal to increase the threshold at which small sites are exempt from affordable housing requirements from 10 homes to up to 50. That could rescue up to 30,000 affordable homes over the next five years.
However, that’s trumped by confirmation of plans to require a minimum of 25 per cent of homes delivered through developer contributions to be First Homes. Mr Jenrick is therefore diverting a sizeable chunk of the funding mechanism that accounts for more than half of affordable homes into his pet project.
On the Right to Buy, local authorities get five years rather than three to use receipts to build new homes and receipts can account for 40 rather than 30 per cent of the total cost. These are improvements to the scarcely credible ‘one-for-one replacement’ pledge made when discounts were increased in 2012.
But that could still leave them forced to sell homes for less than it cost to build them and it does not address the parallel question of ‘like-for-like’ replacement.
Far from responding to concerns raised in the consultation about broadening the definition, the government suggests that ‘affordable’ replacements for social rent homes sold could include not just affordable rent and shared ownership but also (you guessed it) First Homes.
All of which suggests that the loss of social rent homes – 210,000 in England in the last eight years, according to the latest UK Housing Review – will continue even as ministers make rhetorical nods to the tenure.
It’s as though one part of government wants to shift the balance of policy in favour of social and affordable housing only for another to tilt it back towards home ownership and the free market.
With crucial choices looming as society reopens and the economy moves off life support, which will get the cake and which will be left with the crumbs?
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 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 as a column for Inside Housing on August 3.
If the Right to Buy has a birthplace it’s a terraced house at 39 Amersham Road in Harold Hill, near Romford in Essex.
True, the sale was the 12,000th rather than the first and 11 August, 1980 was not the actual birth date of the policy either.
However, both have come to symbolise the Right to Buy because this was the place and that was the day that Margaret Thatcher came for tea.
The former prime minister joined the Patterson family, who had bought their home for £8,315 after 18 years as tenants of the Greater London Council (GLC).
Two things came together to remind me of that photo opportunity this week: first, archive footage used in the film Dispossession (full review to follow soon); and second a good investigation by the local paper of hidden homelessness in the area.
The Tory ‘council house revolution’ trailed in all today’s papers begs all sorts of questions that I’ll be blogging about soon (now up here).
In TV interviews today we’ve learned that there is no new money, just the £1.4bn for affordable housing promised in the 2016 Autumn Statement.
Conservative spokespeople refused to say how many homes were involved but the Autumn Statement said 40,000.
If that is welcome news it hardly qualifies as a ‘revolution’. However, the policy includes other details that could prove to be more significant in the longer term.
Given that all today’s reports are based on a Conservative Party press release that I can’t find anywhere online, here it is: