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Post election review of housebuilding and housing policy

What now for housebuilding and housing policy? After last week’s general election result of a hung Parliament, a weakened prime minister and confusion about what direction exactly will happen next, the future for property developers and social housing is far from certain. Brexit, the Conservative alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and jockeying for position around the Cabinet table are all taking prominence in the ministerial mind, pushing into a distant second place all the discussions around vital public policy areas such as health, security, education and, of course, housing.

The first bit of good news for the industry is that there is now a housing minister in post after Gavin Barwell, the previous incumbent lost his seat in the election before returning as Theresa May’s chief of staff at No 10.
Alok Sharma, MP for Reading West since 2010 and a former junior Foreign Office minister, was appointed on Tuesday. Details of his views at this early stage are sketchy although he has tended to vote alongside the government on housing issues and has opposed some local building schemes.

So it is worth a recap. In February, the government published ‘Fixing our broken housing market’ (www.gov.uk/government/collections/housing-white-paper), its white paper response to criticisms that the UK is not building enough homes.
This was Theresa May’s first attempt to crack the housing conundrum – how to ensure enough homes are built without spending billions of pounds of public money. In short the recommendations were grouped into four areas: planning for the right homes in the right places; building homes faster; diversifying the market; and helping people now. You can read Residentially’s analysis of what that meant for developers and housing associations here:

Housing white paper review for housebuilders and developers
Housing white paper review for housing associations

Politically speaking, that feels like a blast from another, distant age. But how much is that likely to change? Finger in the wind stuff it may be at this stage, given the opprobrium which has greeted the Conservative 2017 manifesto since the election result was announced. Wholesale chunks are expected to be jettisoned from it once ministers settle down to business. It is, however, in our search for clues as to the likely shape of forthcoming policy, worth a look at the main points of the Labour and Conservative manifestos to see the kinds of ideas under discussion.

Conservative

• Meet 2015 commitment to build 1 million homes by 2020 and will build 500,000 more by 2022.
• Deliver the housing white paper – free up more land, encourage modern construction, allow councils to intervene when developers do not use planning permission, diversify who builds homes.
• Critical of high land costs and poor planning which results in, for example, a lack of infrastructure and communal facilities. Houses will ‘match the quality of previous generations with ‘high quality, high-density housing like mansion blocks, mews houses, terraced streets’.
• Maintain strong protections on national parks, green belt land and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
• Rebalance housing development away from the south-east. Government to build 160,000 homes on its own land.
• Increase specialist housing ie multigenerational housing or housing for older people including by helping housing associations increase their specialist housing stock.
• To achieve this, the government will enter into council housing deals with ‘ambitious, pro-development’ local authorities to help them build more social housing.
• The government will help councils’ housebuilding capability and capacity and provide low cost capital funding. This will create new fixed term council housing, sold privately after 10-15 years with tenants getting the automatic right to buy with proceeds from sales recycled into further similar schemes.
• Greater flexibility will be given to housing associations to increase housing stock.
• The government will help public and private developers to capture the increase in land value after they build to invest in local infrastructure to ensure that local communities benefit from land price increases.

Labour

• Invest to build over a million new homes via a national transformation fund. By the end of the next Parliament pledge to be building at least 100,000 council and housing association homes per year for affordable rent or sale.
• Establish a new Department for Housing to improve the number, standards and affordability of homes. Homes and Communities Agency to be overhauled and become housing delivery body, and give councils new powers to build homes.
• Prioritise brownfield sites and protect the green belt. Start work on a new generation of new towns to ‘avoid urban sprawl’.
• Better home insulation, consultation on new rules on minimum space standards and on new modern standards for building ‘zero carbon homes’.
• Local plans address the need for older people’s housing, ensuring choice and downsizing are available.
• The Land Registry to remain publicly owned.
• Remove government restrictions that stop councils building homes, begin a major council housebuilding programme.
• Plan to cap new house prices at local average incomes to help first time buyers.
• FirstBuy properties will be built by local councils and housing associations and partly paid for by developers who want to build new homes. Mortgages on 100,000 of the homes would be set at a third of the average salary in each local authority – with prices discounted by up to 40 per cent of the market price. Priority will be given to teachers, nurses and tradesmen. These properties will be built primarily by councils and housing associations and paid for partly through payments to councils by developers who want to build new homes. The discount would be preserved when the house is re-sold – meaning owners will be unable to make a full market-rate profit on the sale of their home.

So, the broadbrush political message is to build more homes – the Conservatives via more local initiatives, Labour via a nationally-led housebuilding programme. How much airtime housing gets in the Queen’s Speech seems up for grabs at the time of writing. And in the best traditions of politics and housebuilding policy…..no one really knows how or whether those testing targets will be met. Watch this space.