This month the Government published a White Paper “Fixing our broken housing market” which was whiter than white. Full of home truths, so full that you could not disagree with any of it. Except, all of it. It is supposed to build on the previous promise to construct one million new homes by 2020. There is about as much chance of that as pigs flying. The real home truth is that the Government, in spite of its pleas to the contrary, doesn’t want lots more homes, but it needs to maintain the delusion that it is trying.
All the time there is a drastic housing shortage, property prices will continue to rise and property values will remain ridiculously inflated. In the world of political double-speak our Government does not really believe what it says, even in White Papers. If they were to build lots more homes in the next four years:-
- property prices would fall costing them a lot of money in lost tax revenues and loosing them votes from home owners;
- the green belt would have to be built on to provide the land, which would upset many Conservative constituencies and lose the votes of the rural community;
- we would need increased immigration to supply the labour force, which would cost the votes of the Brexiteers;
- and finally banks and building societies would have to find the capital, when they are already under-capitalised and reliant on these same over-priced property values.
That is why it will never happen.
Another hapless Housing Minister – Gavin Barwell – makes another vacuous announcement. Following on from the five previous Housing Ministers in the last four years, all of whom have made a succession of unfulfilled promises about housing.
This time the publication of the white paper was timed to coincide with the debate on the Brexit withdrawal , thereby guaranteeing there would be minimal attention focussed on the housing bill.
What does it offer:-
- Threats of compulsory purchase to developers who hoard land banks and don’t build any houses in a reasonable timescale. This ignores the very protacted delays in the planning system and the difficulties new homeowners have of securing mortgages. Nonetheless, large developers are sitting on thousands of units which already have outlined planning approval. I doubt this change will deliver very many completed homes by 2020.
- Encouragement to small house builders. This plays to the small business lobby, but is only likely to deliver small results. Nothing near the 200,000 a year plus target that has been set.
- Prefabs to build more quickly. An idea that worked well after the second world war but is hardly appropriate in these days of high density development. Gearing up to provide factory built homes offsite has been talked about for many years. It is never likely to take off with the complexity of our planning system.
- There were promises of a major boost to retirement housing for sale boosted by the prospect of lots of older people wishing to downsize from family homes. This is a considerable market which has not taken off because of the lack of good quality, affordable retirement housing. All the White Paper says about this, is that there will be further studies of the options. Planning complexities of retirement housing are compounded by Local Authority concerns about the demands placed on Social Services and Health Authorities. In my experience that process means it takes at least three years from inception to completed houses on site. Therefore, that probably means that there will be no additional new retirement houses by 2020, other than those projects already in the pipeline.
- At the current rate of construction we are going to see another 450,000 new houses completed by 2020. Any more is just political spin. Kidology. Or just downright LIES.
All in all this is an extremely disappointing housing bill. Once again this Government is demonstrating that housing is not a priority. I forecast that property values will continue to rise and the current shortage of housing will sustain for a decade.