Complete picture

As ever the new UK Housing Review offers a mix of authoritative statistics and some fascinating new insights on housing across all tenures.

Published this week, the 2014 edition of the bible for housing types edited by Steve Wilcox and John Perry mixes a compendium of statistics plus several chapters of expert commentary. It’s also one of the few publications to compare housing in the different nations of the UK. All that’s missing is an index.

Reports elsewhere have highlighted the bias in the mortgage market towards landlords and the threat to the affordable homes programme after 2015 but I’ve picked out three more themes to illustrate the breadth of what’s on offer in the review.

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


Help or hindrance?

So a year in to Help to Buy, who has it helped and what has the impact been so far?

Those are the questions I set out to answer in my feature in this week’s Inside Housing. It concludes that the limited number of Help to Buy transactions seen so far cannot have been enough on their own to account for what’s happened in the market in its first year. What’s been far more significant is the impact on the behaviour of buyers, sellers and housebuilders of a signal from the government that it will do everything it can to generate a housing market recovery. That, combined with a range of other government policies (and non-policies) and the favourable environment of record low interest rates, has duly produced one.

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


Equity moans

In the furore over the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme, its equity loan counterpart has escaped much scrutiny. A report out today changes that.

Help to Buy 1 started in April last year. Equity loans worth more than £500 million households were made in the first nine months of the scheme to almost 13,000 households. Another 9,600 loans were in the pipeline. If everything goes to plan over the next two years, 74,000 households will eventually benefit from equity loans worth £3.7 billion.

Today’s report from the National Audit Office (NAO) makes you remember that although it is small by comparison with the £12 billion of mortgage guarantees offered by its more controversial sibling, Help to Buy 1 is significantly bigger than the FirstBuy scheme that it replaced.

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


Pickled homes

To hear ministers talk we are in the middle of a housebuilding boom. Official figures released today beg to differ.

According to the DCLG housebuilding statistics for the fourth quarter of 2013, starts and completions in England were both down 1 per cent on the third quarter. These are only the figures for one quarter but they don’t seem in the script.

While starts for the year as a whole were up 23 per cent on 2012 at 122,800, completions were down 5 per cent at 109,480. True, those starts will soon turn into new homes but this hardly feels like a giant step towards the promised land of 250,000 additional homes a year.

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


Crisis talk

It was the housing shortage rather than the housing crisis that he said would last for 10 years but it was still a surprisingly frank admission from George Osborne.

This was the key quote from the chancellor yesterday that was the basis of the stories in this morning’s papers:

‘I imagine if we were all assembled again in 10 years’ time we’d still be talking about the challenge of making sure that our housing supply kept up with housing demand and we’re all legislators here and we all have a responsibility to the next generation.’

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


Taking the pledge

The weekend’s big speech by Ed Balls looks like significant news for housing under a future Labour government – and not just for the obvious reasons.

The national headlines from the shadow chancellor’s speech to the Fabian conference were taken by his pledge to restore the 50p rate of tax and subsequent accusations that Labour is therefore anti-business. The undoubtedly good news for housing was that it will be ‘a central priority’ if Labour wins power in 2015.

But it was Balls’s message about ‘fiscal discipline’ that was more interesting to me:

‘We won’t be able to reverse all the spending cuts and tax rises that the Tories have pushed through. We will have to govern with less money, which means the next Labour government will have to make cuts too. No responsible Opposition can make detailed commitments and difficult judgments about what will happen in two or three years time without knowing the state of the economy and public finances that we will inherit.

‘But we know we will face difficult choices. The government’s day-to-day spending totals for 2015/16 will be our starting point. There will be no more borrowing for day-to-day spending. Any changes to the current spending plans for that year will be fully-funded and set out in advance in our manifesto.’

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

Garden griping

So Nick would like two, Eric (through clenched teeth) one or two, Emma five and Boris none. It’s time to play the garden cities game.

A quick look at the electoral map of constituencies around London tells you most of what you need to know about the politics involved. You’ll find a sea of Tory blue in the swathe of seats closest to the capital with only Labour Slough, Luton and Oxford and Lib Dem Lewes and Colchester anywhere near to being affected.

It also explains why David Cameron’s interest has waned and a government-commissioned study on new towns has allegedly been blocked. According to the FT, a Downing Street official has even joked that the only possible sites should be Buckingham and Mid Bedfordshire, the seats of Tory outcasts John Bercow and Nadine Dorries.

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


Incentives, bribes, fracking and housing

The prospect of local communities gaining an estimated ‘£10 million per wellhead’ if they approve plans for fracking in their area got me thinking about the role that incentives (or bribes) can or should play in countering opposition to controversial development.

As far as fracking goes, local authorities will be able to keep all of the business rates they collect from shale gas schemes rather than having to give half back to central government. The government estimates that the concession could be worth up to £1.7 million a year for each fracking site approved.

On top of that, energy companies have pledged to give local communities £100,000 for test drilling and a further 1 per cent of revenues if shale is discovered. The double payment seems calculated to forestall opposition to an industry that could potentially affect every county in England except Cornwall but which ministers believe is vital to the future of the economy.

However, that seems not to be enough for many councils and MPs and an all-party group in the North West is demanding that the Treasury give up a share of its tax revenue so that even more of the profits go local.

I’m interested here not so much in the pros and cons of fracking (and I do live in Cornwall) as in the wider relevance of these sort of incentives.

Read the rest of this entry »


Bald truths

Like bald men with a comb, the politicians squabbled yesterday over who has the worst record on housebuilding.

The ghost of Stanley Baldwin occupied the green benches once again as Hilary Benn and Eric Pickles traded stats to show that each other’s governments had built the fewest new homes (in England) since the 1920s.

So where Benn opened the opposition debate with the accusation that ‘in the three years for which he has been in charge, the number of homes completed in England has fallen to its lowest level since Stanley Baldwin was first prime minister’, Pickles countered with ‘when I walked through the door of Eland House the spirit of Stanley Baldwin and those figures met me. That was our baseline—that is what we actually started from.’

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


While you were away

Not everything stops for Christmas and New Year. I’ve just written a post for Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing, on what’s happened in housing over the break.

The post features government guidance on housing allocations for local people, a House of Commons Library note on housing supply, an FT report on David Cameron’s fading interest in garden cities, a 5 Live programme on the housing market in 2014, James Meek’s London Review of Books essay on housing plus the latest on the bedroom tax.

Read more here.


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