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.
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 »
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 »
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 »