Marks out of 10 for the housing white paper

Originally published on February 10 on my blog for Inside Housing.

So have Gavin Barwell and Sajid Javid finally grapsed the nettle on the housing crisis?

Critics lined up to call the white paper a damp squib, a white flag and (my personal favourite) like a wet Tuesday in Bognor. Some had even read it first.

Supporters called it a pragmatic shift away from policy under David Cameron and ‘a blueprint for change’. And there was the inevitable ‘cautious welcome’ from housing organisations.

In some ways, the responses of two of the architects of previous Conservative housing policies were the most interesting ones. Former housing minister Grant Shapps said previous plans had not made much difference and this one probably wouldn’t either. Former No 10 adviser Alex Morton revealed the cynical political calculation at the heart of previous policy when he warned that ‘if you get dragged into an argument about renting versus owning, it will quickly become about the need for more council homes’.

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Has the White Paper fixed it?

Originally published on February 7 on my blog for Inside Housing. 

As the advance press coverage showed, this is a White Paper with few big ideas but maybe that is no bad thing when you consider the ones that emerged the last time the government presented us with a range of ‘bold’ and ‘radical’ reforms.

The extension of the Right to Buy to housing association tenants, forced sales of higher-value council homes and Starter Homes have cast such a dark shadow over affordable housing for the past two years that they make a bit of timidity seem almost welcome.

I’ll come back to the White Paper as a whole another time. You can argue it’s a flimsy response to the housing crisis and there are sections that make you wonder if they’ve been watered down, but it does make a series of subtle changes with the potential at least to change the balance of power in housebuilding.

And there are two new ideas that are definitely worth welcoming: publication of information on land ownership and options over land, and allowing local authorities to participate in German-style land pooling for new development.

For now, though, I want to concentrate on the affordable housing side of the equation and what happened to those three big ideas that have dominated so much of the debate (and my blogs) since 2015.

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The trouble with starter homes

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

The new year ‘green light’ for Starter Homes raises yet more questions about the flagship Conservative policy.

The announcement covers 30 local authority partnerships that will get help from the £1.2bn Starter Home Land Fund to develop schemes with “thousands of new homes” on brownfield sites. These will then be sold at a discount of “at least 20% below market value” to first-time buyers aged between 23 and 40.

So far, so faithful then to the policy as it evolved under David Cameron and George Osborne. But note that vague reference to “thousands” and compare it with the very specific pledge to build 200,000 Starter Homes in the 2015 Conservative manifesto. The Starter Homes Land Fund was launched in the Spring Budget to deliver “at least 30,000 homes”. Note too that only five or six of the 30 areas are in the politically sensitive South East and that the announcement does not cover London.

What this looks like is the more acceptable end of the policy: a plan to get homes built on sites that might not otherwise be developed. True, the £1.2bn could be better spent in other ways but this is not yet the subsidy-hungry, Section 106-hogging ‘cuckoo in the nest’ of affordable housing specified in the Housing and Planning Act.

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