The B word

Here’s a number that should embolden whoever wins the election: 54% of voters support government borrowing to fund more affordable homes.

A MORI opinion poll for the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) found that just 21% would oppose borrowing to fund affordable housing for sale or rent and 24% neither support not oppose it. Support was unsurprisingly strongest among renters (60 per cent) and Londoners (66 per cent).

The results are in line with a series of other recent polls showing a significant shift in public attitudes to housebuilding. However, the election campaign seems so fixed that it’s difficult to imagine any of the major parties trying to win majority support by advocating a policy that actually has it. It would simply play into the Conservative narrative that it was not the banks but the last Labour government that caused the economic crisis by borrowing too much.

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Housing at the hustings

So is housing finally cutting through as an issue at this election? Yesterday has convinced me that it is.

The day started with housing featuring as the election issue of the day on Today on Radio 4 – good news in itself but just an indication of the programme’s agenda. The report by John Humphrys was about Shepherd’s Bush and how it’s changed from the setting for Steptoe & Son to a place where a couple on a joint income of over £100,000 cannot afford a deposit, let alone a home, and foreign investors are buying new apartments eight at a time.

An interview with Brandon Lewis and Emma Reynolds followed (listen again here at about 8.30). But it quickly degenerated into bald men squabbling over a comb mode as they traded statistics about who has the worst record in government. Lewis trotted out the usual lines about Help to Buy while Reynolds repeated her better ones about Lyons. Maybe I’ve heard it too many times before, maybe they’ve said the same thing too many times before, but it hardly seemed like housing was at the centre of the election. Depressingly, the focus was entirely on first-time buyers. They do face huge problems but this is an indication I think that the main parties still see home ownership as the issue on which elections are won and lost. It’s a sense of aspiration, rather than housing as such, that is the real issue.

That was enough to lower my expectations for my local hustings. BBC Cornwall is organising them across the county and last night it was the turn of St Ives. The Lib Dems held off the Conservatives by just 1,700 votes in 2010 and it’s one of the 23 seats the Tories need to win to form an overall majority.

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No surprises from Labour

If you’re looking for anything new on housing in the Labour manifesto you’re going to have to search very hard for it.

The party’s priorities were clearly elsewhere in the document launched this morning and the housing sections are largely rehashes of Labour’s response to the Lyons Review and of previous statements on social security.

Housing gets a mention in the introduction but only in relation to housebuilding and home ownership:

‘We are not building the homes we need. Our sons and daughters have been shut out of the housing market and too often they are forced to leave the communities where they were brought up.’

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Last words

As the election campaign for the next government officially gets underway what did we miss in the dying days of the last one?

The end of last week saw frenzied activity to clear the decks before the dissolution of parliament. Here are three things I picked out:

1) A good day to bury bad news?

That was the accusation from Labour’s Chris Ruane as he raised a point of order with the speaker about why it had taken almost five months to answer a written question he had tabled in early November about how much money was spent on social housing in each of the last 15 years. The speaker said he was ‘taken aback’ by the delay and that ministers must do better.

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Starters’ orders

So the national housing strategy now comes down to this ahead of the election: think of a big number and double it.

Even by recent standards, the starter home initiative plumbs new depths in allowing the politics to drive the policy. The idea of building 100,000 homes at a 20 per cent discount for first-time buyers was first proposed in David Cameron’s conference speech in October. The launch (of a website to register interest, as no homes will be built for some time) was accelerated to this month when the consultation was published in December. And in Cameron’s housing speech today it’s been doubled to 200,000 homes.

Housing minister Brandon Lewis made a written statement earlier that is an extraordinarily rapid government response to a consultation that only ended three weeks ago. However, the response (full version here) is only to the original plan for 100,000 homes, not Cameron’s doubling of it. Reading through some of the responses to the consultation today, I was especially struck by this comment from the Council of Mortgage Lenders:

‘Our overall view of the scheme as outlined is that it could provide a modest addition to the flow of lower cost housing for FTBs and we would support this main objective. But we would warn against setting over-ambitious targets for the scheme at this juncture, before the attractiveness of this particular proposition has been tested on the market.’

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Helping hand

So it turns out that subsidising housebuilders may not have been the best way to boost housebuilding after all.

It’s bad enough that even developers are now arguing that the government has made too many concessions to them. Now it turns out that George Osborne was warned by his own civil servants that Help to Buy could end up going to homes that would have been built anyway.

I’m catching up on a week’s worth of news that  shakes the twin pillars of government policy on housebuilding and home ownership: cutting ‘red tape’ to make sites more viable for new homes and funding equity loan and guarantee schemes to persuade people to buy them.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing


Starter for 20

The government’s plan for starter homes with a 20 per cent discount begs all sorts of questions. Today we got some of the answers.

The scheme announced by David Cameron this morning was first trailed in his conference speech in October as an idea for after the election but has now apparently been brought forward to start early next year.

Some of the details of Dave’s Dream Homes seem to have changed along the way. According to a DCLG consultation also published today,  the starter homes initiative seems to amount to an extension of rural exceptions sites to urban areas. So how will it work?

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing


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