Originally published on January 4 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
So a New Year brings a ‘radical new policy shift’ for housing. Seven years after the crash and four years after its failed ‘radical and unashamedly ambitious’ housing strategy, the government now thinks it has what’s needed to boost housebuilding.
Hailed by David Cameron as ‘a huge shift in government policy’, today’s announcement that the government will directly commission 13,000 homes certainly seems to be a welcome admission that the market cannot fix housing on its own, that state intervention is required on a significant scale and that the major housebuilders alone will not deliver.
But what took so long? This much has been clear since 2008, when the Global Financial Crisis and credit crunch triggered a housebuilding slump and the Conservatives were drawing up their housing and planning policies in opposition.
Is all the talk of One Nation Conservatism just spin or is there some substance that could mean good news for housing?
In the wake of their surprise election victory, and with the opposition in disarray, senior Tories have moved to claim the centre ground: David Cameron wants ‘blue collar Conservatism’; Robert Halfon says the Tories are the true Workers Party; and it’s full steam ahead for George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse. Even Cameron’s guru Steve Hilton is back in town calling the Living Wage a ‘moral absolute’.
It’s easy to be cynical about all of this when the party ended the campaign seemingly committed to taxing less and spending more at the same time as it runs a budget surplus. As things stand, expect lots of references to cutting tax for people on the minimum wage and rather fewer to cutting their tax credits and housing benefit. Those £12 billion cuts in welfare spending, plus another £13 billion of cuts in departmental budgets are yet to be spelt out.