Monday, 12 March 2018

Theresa May gives speech aimed at fixing our “broken housing market”...but does it offer anything new?

In a speech to the Royal Town Planning Institute conference on Monday, Theresa May described what she called a “broken housing market” which has resulted in a loss of community and social mobility, leaving young people angry at the unaffordability of homes and the consequent rises in wealth inequality.  Her solution is fresh approaches; although for many the speech didn’t really offer any of these.  Yes, there was talk of plans to streamline the planning process and force housebuilders and developers to build on land they own, however these are not new offerings.

The streamlining of the whole planning framework is already underway as confirmed in a letter from Steve Quartermain the Government's Chief Planner and already sent to developers and lobby groups. The letter advises that ministers intend to publish a draft revised version of the National Planning Policy Framework, the policy document that outlines what can be built where, by the end of March, with a final version published in the summer.

Similarly, the subject of ‘land banking’ is already part of an inquiry, with the report to be delivered in the Spring to see if large housing developers are hoarding land and waiting for the value of it to rise instead of building on it straight away. 

To some however, most worrying is that Theresa May’s speech comes over a year after she declared to take “personal charge” after the government published their Housing White Paper with its bold promise to “fix our broken housing market.”

The White Paper announced plans to boost the supply of new homes in England, driving and promoting initiatives such as modular construction and most importantly to create a planning framework that assists increased and quicker levels of development.  Since the White Paper we have seen three new housing ministers which can only be a negative, although in January we did see Sajid Javid become Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government in a move that saw housing elevated to a cabinet position.

Time will tell if this change can make a real difference, although doubters have already voiced their concerns as Sajid Javid’s proposal to allow councils to borrow money to construct social housing has already been blocked by the Treasury and Theresa May in her speech yesterday dismissed there would not be any changes to this in the near future. Indeed she actually went as far as saying that councils were a significant part of the housing problem.

There have however been positive steps since the launch of the Housing White Paper including a further boost of £10 billion to the Help to Buy scheme and local housing projects seeing an investment of £866m. The last budget also saw stamp duty for first time buyers being abolished and a pledge of £44 billion to build 300,000 new homes a year!

We will have to wait and see if the housing problem can be fixed, although since the launch of the White Paper many would argue there has been little progress in solving the real problem: we have simply not built enough houses in the last few decades and this needs to change now.

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