Starters’ orders

So the national housing strategy now comes down to this ahead of the election: think of a big number and double it.

Even by recent standards, the starter home initiative plumbs new depths in allowing the politics to drive the policy. The idea of building 100,000 homes at a 20 per cent discount for first-time buyers was first proposed in David Cameron’s conference speech in October. The launch (of a website to register interest, as no homes will be built for some time) was accelerated to this month when the consultation was published in December. And in Cameron’s housing speech today it’s been doubled to 200,000 homes.

Housing minister Brandon Lewis made a written statement earlier that is an extraordinarily rapid government response to a consultation that only ended three weeks ago. However, the response (full version here) is only to the original plan for 100,000 homes, not Cameron’s doubling of it. Reading through some of the responses to the consultation today, I was especially struck by this comment from the Council of Mortgage Lenders:

‘Our overall view of the scheme as outlined is that it could provide a modest addition to the flow of lower cost housing for FTBs and we would support this main objective. But we would warn against setting over-ambitious targets for the scheme at this juncture, before the attractiveness of this particular proposition has been tested on the market.’

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Starter’s orders

Who did David Cameron have in mind when he talked about the ‘vested interests’ that are blocking new homes?

Given the effort that goes in to honing a conference speech to get the messages exactly right, and the fact that the prime minister was reading from an autocue rather than speaking without notes like Ed Miliband, it seems safe to assume that he meant exactly what he said. Here’s what he told the Conservative conference this week:

‘For those wanting to buy a home, yes – we will help you get on that housing ladder…but only if we take on the vested interests, and build more homes – however hard that is.’

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


The West London question

The West Lothian question is at the centre of the politics of the UK in the wake of David Cameron’s response to the No vote in the Scottish referendum.

The prime minister surprised his opponents by linking a demand for ‘English votes for English laws’ to the fulfilment of the three-party ‘vow’ to devolve more power to the Scots if they rejected independence.

Under pressure from English Conservatives and UKIP, Cameron said:

‘I have long believed that a crucial part missing from this national discussion is England. We have heard the voice of Scotland – and now the millions of voices of England must also be heard. The question of English votes for English laws – the so-called West Lothian question – requires a decisive answer.’

‘So, just as Scotland will vote separately in the Scottish Parliament on their issues of tax, spending and welfare, so too England, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland, should be able to vote on these issues and all this must take place in tandem with, and at the same pace as, the settlement for Scotland.’

It is of course complete coincidence that this would benefit the Conservatives (one current MP in Scotland and eight in Wales) at the expense of Labour (40 in Scotland and 26 in Wales). Taken literally, it also threatens the timetable for ‘the vow’ and Alex Salmond is already claiming that No voters were tricked. Belatedly even Downing Street seems to have realised that this looked like Cameron, rather than Scottish unionists, was trying to get ‘the best of both worlds’. Two and a half days after the original statement it has issued a clarification that that new powers for Scotland are not linked to English votes for English laws

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Mind the gaps

Spot the gaps between rhetoric and reality in the speech by David Cameron about family-friendly policies.

The prime minister spoke on Monday about how he will put families at the centre of new domestic policy-making. He asked three questions on this, none of which are directly housing issues but all of which touch on housing: How can we help families come together? How can we help families stay together? And how can we help troubled families and those children who don’t even have families?

Cameron also promised to introduce a family test as part of the impact assessment of all domestic government policies. That has to be good news even if the government has a track record of ignoring inconvenient evidence from impact assessments. However, it also prompts the obvious question of how existing government policies would fare under the test.

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


Doubts about Dave

How do David Cameron’s claims this morning about home ownership and new housing in his own constituency measure up to scrutiny?

It’s a measure of the growing political importance of housing took top billing in his Today programme interview sandwiched between reaction to the conviction of Abu Hamza and Britain’s relationship with Europe. Listen again here from about 1:30 in.

The interview was notable for me for two things: first an unequivocal claim to the old Tory mantle of the ‘property owning democracy’; and second a denial that Tory councils are nimbys made with specific reference to West Oxfordshire (Cameron’s Witney constituency has the same boundaries).

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


Appearance and reality in the 2014 housing market

Combine one ex-PR man prime minister with one lucky homebuyer who’s also an estate agent, then add one ex-teacher turned buy-to-let mogul. Welcome to the New Year recipe for housing, where perceptions are everything.

David Cameron used Help to Buy as a metaphor for the Conservative message about economic recovery and opportunity for all when he took part in a photo op in Southampton with a young mum and her toddler and had tea in the new home she’s just bought through a government scheme.

It seemed standard, if rather awkward-looking fare, until this post appeared on the internet claiming that the young mum, Sharon Ray, was actually Sharon O’Donnell, a sales director with the estate agent that allegedly sold the home. That was followed by a typically sexist story about the ‘attractive blonde’ in the Mail and this corrective about some exaggerations and errors in the original post. Cue a Twitterstorm and debate between those seeing the whole thing as an example of Tory fakery and those outraged by the hounding of a young woman who’d done nothing wrong.

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While you were away

Not everything stops for Christmas and New Year. I’ve just written a post for Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing, on what’s happened in housing over the break.

The post features government guidance on housing allocations for local people, a House of Commons Library note on housing supply, an FT report on David Cameron’s fading interest in garden cities, a 5 Live programme on the housing market in 2014, James Meek’s London Review of Books essay on housing plus the latest on the bedroom tax.

Read more here.