The levelling up of housing targetsPosted: December 6, 2022 Filed under: Housebuilding, Planning | Tags: Michael Gove, Theresa Villiers Leave a comment
Originally published as a column for Inside Housing.
There is no chance of the government achieving its target of 300,000 new homes by the mid-2020s so why has the drama ramped up within the Conservative Party?
The answer is, of course, politics but it is coming from two different directions and there is a long history that lies behind it.
The inclusion of the target in the 2019 manifesto was all about having something to say to younger voters excluded from homeownership.
Note that the commitment is actually to a more weasly ‘progress towards’ 300,000, alongside a promise of ‘at least a million homes’ in this parliament, although both are important in focusing minds within government.
The latter target – effectively 200,000 a year – should be comfortably achieved, not least because it already happened in the last parliament.
Figures published last month showed that 232,820 net additional homes were delivered in 2021-22, a 10% increase on COVID-affected 2020-21 and not far off the pre-pandemic peak.
House builder after house builder has reported falling sales recently, so the total should fall this year regardless of anything MPs decide about planning.
Which is where the other direction comes in: the politics of appealing to well-housed, mostly older voters in affluent Conservative constituencies in the South East from MPs who fear a multiple repeat of the Tory defeat in the Chesham and Amersham by-election at the next general election.Read the rest of this entry »
Political chaos leaves big housing questionsPosted: July 8, 2022 Filed under: Fire safety, Levelling up, Mortgages, Private renting, Right to buy | Tags: Conservatives, Michael Gove Leave a comment
Originally published as a column for Inside Housing.
So it’s back to the future and all change at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) as the dust begins to settle from the political chaos of the last two weeks.
It was a scandal involving one ex-housing minister (Chris Pincher) that triggered the revolt against Boris Johnson. Many Tories want another (Dominic Raab) to take over as temporary prime minister. And two more (Grant Shapps and ex-housing secretary Sajid Javid) could run as candidates for the permanent job.
Over at the department that keeps changing its name, Michael Gove has been sacked as ‘a snake’ and most of the more junior ministers have resigned. Stuart Andrew set a new record for a housing minister with just 148 days in the job and no time even for an Inside Housing interview to be published.
Coming in as temporary secretary of state is the familiar figure of Greg Clark, who according to some reports this morning has told civil servants that Gove will be back soon.
Confused? Significant new policy announcements are by convention ruled out until there is a new permanent leader and cabinet – but this did not stop Theresa May enshrining the net zero by 2050 commitment in law before she left office and Boris Johnson is not noted for following convention.Read the rest of this entry »
The tide turns on deregulation and the private sectorPosted: February 17, 2022 Filed under: Fire safety, Housebuilding, Legal, Private renting | Tags: Michael Gove Leave a comment
The package of building safety changes announced this week by Michael Gove represents an extraordinary shift on any number of different levels.
Whether it’s effectively banning developers from building anything if they fail to cooperate or rewriting the terms of tens of thousands of leasehold contracts, the amendments to the Building Safety Bill will fundamentally change the way that flats (at least those over 11m) are maintained and managed.
The package inevitably raises a whole series of questions that I’ll return to in a future column but for now I want to concentrate on what it says about the extent of the change in the government’s attitude towards the private sector in housing.Read the rest of this entry »
The long history of levelling upPosted: February 3, 2022 Filed under: Levelling up, Regeneration | Tags: Michael Gove Leave a comment
Originally written as a column for Inside Housing.
Whether you put it down to coincidence, cock-up or an acute sense of history the decision to launch the Levelling Up white paper on Groundhog Day looks singularly appropriate.
My day began with the Today programme’s report from Wakefield rather than Sonny & Cher on the radio but the effect was similar. It took me straight back to the late 1980s when I was reporting on regeneration plans for the same city.
That was after Margaret Thatcher’s famous ‘walk in the wilderness’ and promise on night she won the 1987 election that: ‘Tomorrow morning we must do something about those inner cities, because we want them too next time.’
Her government had spent the previous eight years destroying the traditional industries that provided the well-paid jobs in those same areas but now she would put things right. Regeneration programmes like City Challenge, Development Corporations and Estate Action duly followed.
Flash forward 35 years and, after winning many of the seats that eluded Mrs Thatcher, another Tory government is promising to ‘level up’ exactly the same areas. This after spending nine years slashing their local authority budgets.
And these are only two moments in a long history of attempts to rebalance the regional economies of the UK that date back to the 1920s.Read the rest of this entry »
Gove’s grand plan leaves gaps to fillPosted: January 17, 2022 Filed under: Fire safety, Help to Buy, Housebuilding | Tags: Michael Gove Leave a comment
As one MP put it, we welcome the steps forward in ministerial statements on building safety only to find problems in the steps backward that follow.
Michael Gove’s plans to ‘make developers pay’ represent the most positive steps seen so far but there are still major concerns over what comes next.
For starters, how exactly will he ‘make’ them? The initial plan in talks before Easter seems to be persuasion but the levelling up secretary has limited levers that he can pull and why would companies that have previously resisted calls to ‘do the right thing’ change their minds now?
He cited the way that Rydon Homes, sister company of the main contractor in the Grenfell refurbishment, was barred from Help to Buy but the scheme ends in 2023 and most of the £29 billion in equity loans has already been committed.
This highlights yet again a major flaw in the government’s support for housebuilders that I highlighted even before the creation of Help to Buy: its failure to get a quid pro quo for all that help for profits, bonuses and dividends.
Short of another support scheme, which may ironically be needed if supply plummets, that leaves blacklisting from Homes England programmes and naming and shaming as his principal weapons. Neither is a negligible threat but will they be enough?
That leaves coercion, legal action or the ‘high-level threat’ of a new tax that Gove is authorised to make in the letter leaked to Newsnight from chief secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke.Read the rest of this entry »
Parallel scandalsPosted: December 1, 2021 Filed under: Fire safety, Leasehold | Tags: Michael Gove Leave a comment
Originally written as a column for Inside Housing.
The building safety and leasehold scandals have run in tandem for some time but the parallels really hit home in parliament this week.
The parallels between the two issues go well beyond the fact that both concern leaseholders and the power imbalance between them and freeholders.
While the government is acting to change things for the future, progress on protecting existing leaseholders and residents of buildings with safety issues has been slow. Ministers have repeatedly promised action only to lament the complexities of the issues involved.
Building safety dominated the initial exchanges in Commons questions on Monday as MP after MP asked Michael Gove about the plight of leaseholders in their constituencies.
The levelling up secretary dropped yet more hints of a series of new measures to tackle the ‘invidious vice’ in which leaseholders are caught that will be announced ‘shortly’, ‘in due course’ and eventually ‘before Christmas’.
Adopting the more aggressive tone towards developers and the construction industry that has marked his approach to the issue since the reshuffle, he said that ‘my Department are looking at every available means to ensure that the burden is lifted from leaseholders’ shoulders and placed where it truly belongs’.Read the rest of this entry »
An empty vision from the ConservativesPosted: October 7, 2021 Filed under: Housebuilding, Levelling up, Planning | Tags: Boris Johnson, Conservative Party, Michael Gove Leave a comment
So now we know. The way to tackle the affordability crisis is to pretend that it does not exist.
There is no official confirmation yet but the clear message from the Conservative Party conference is that radical planning reform and the attempt to force through new housebuilding in the least affordable parts of the country are both dead.
In their place are vague assurances that building more homes in the North will help both to level up the country and take the pressure off the South East.
It was there front and centre in Boris Johnson’s invitation in his conference speech to:
‘Look at this country from the air. Go on google maps, you can also see how much room there is to build the homes that young families need in this country, not on green fields, not just jammed in the South East, but beautiful homes on brownfield sites in places where homes make sense.’
The prime minister still talked about ‘fixing the broken housing market’ but that is no longer a goal to be achieved by building more homes in expensive areas but a means to a different end:
‘Housing in the right place at an affordable price will add massively not just to your general joie de vivre but to your productivity. And that is how we solve the national productivity puzzle by fixing the broken housing market by plugging in the gigabit, by putting in decent safe bus routes and all other transport infrastructure and by investing in skills, skills, skills and that by the way is how we help to cut the cost of living for everyone because housing, energy, transport are now huge parts of our monthly bills.’
There was more in the same vein and some guff about ‘the dream of home ownership’ but you get the picture. Needless to say he had nothing to say about fixing parts of the market that are most broken for tens of thousands of leaseholders stuck in dangerous and defective flats.Read the rest of this entry »