Originally published on March 13 on my blog for Inside Housing.
So, with unintentional irony, the inquiry into why it takes so long to get new homes built is itself taking longer than expected.
For all the advance speculation and ministerial statements in the last few days, the Letwin Review of build-out rates was not published alongside today’s Spring Statement.
Instead the former Conservative Cabinet minister published a four-page letter offering housing secretary Sajid Javid an interim update on the work of the inquiry focusing on what is happening on large sites operated by large housebuilders.
A ‘draft analysis’ will follow by the end of June offering a description of the problem and its causes but final recommendations will only be made in time for the Budget in November.
In truth, expectations that Letwin would be able to offer instant solutions within a few months were always likely to be dashed – not that this stopped ministers from pre-emoting it with warnings to housebuilders to ‘do their duty’ in the planning announcements last week.
Perhaps significantly, the draft update has only one mention of the supposedly crucial issue of ‘land banks’, the nefarious practice by which housebuilders allegedly hoard land with planning permission until they can make the most money.
However, Letwin rejects most of their usual excuses too – everything from shortages of labour, materials and capital to problems with transport infrastructure, utility connections and constrained logistics on site.
He argues instead that the ‘fundamental driver of build out rates once detailed planning permission is granted for large sites appears to be the “absorption rate”.’
This is ‘the rate at which newly constructed homes can be sold into (or are believed to be sold successfully into) the local market without materially disturbing the market price’.