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.

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10 things about 2013: part 2

Here’s the second part of my look back at the key themes I’ve been blogging about this year.

6) Help to Buy

If the bedroom tax was the subject I blogged about most in 2013 (see Part 1 of this blog), Help to Buy was certainly the best (or worst) of the rest.

The first hints of the scheme came in January as the coalition published its Mid-Term Review. Perhaps conscious of the gap between rhetoric and reality when it came to the government’s record on housing, David Cameron promised more help for people who cannot raise a deposit for a mortgage, with details to come in the Budget. By March Cameron and Clegg were promising what sounded to me like the coalition’s fourth housing strategy in three years. And in the Budget George Osborne duly announced what I called a huge gamble, loosening the targeting of previous schemes at first-time buyers and new homes and extending the help available much further up the income scale.

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


Taking the pledge

The optimist in me hopes that Ed Miliband’s launch of Labour’s independent housing commission marks the start of a political arms race on housing ahead of the next election.

In this scenario, his target of 200,000 homes a year by 2020 and eye-catching policies to achieve it will strengthen the hand of the pro-development wing of the Conservative Party and mean that whoever wins the next election will have a serious crack at tackling the supply crisis.

The pessimist in me worries that I’ve seen little so far that suggests the target is achievable (see Colin Wiles on this last week) and that the two policies that have made the headlines won’t work except in the sense of strengthening the hand of the Tory nimbys.

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


Free exchange

Alex Morton’s move from Policy Exchange to the No 10 Policy Unit is a powerful symbol of something – but what exactly?

For some it’s a signal of a ‘housing dream team’, with Morton joining Nick Boles in a push to take the Yes to Homes message to the heart of government. Boles is of course planning minister but he was also the first director of the organisation dubbed ‘David Cameron’s favourite think tank’.

And it’s not just them either. Boles was succeeded as director by Anthony Browne, now Boris Johnson’s adviser for economic development, and Browne was succeeded by Neil O’Brien, who is now a special adviser to George Osborne. Three other alumni became Conservative MPs in 2010.

For others it will seem more like housing’s worst nightmare. Morton has developed some controversial as well as influential ideas and now the Exchangers are now well placed in No 10, the Treasury, the DCLG and the main city with a housing problem.

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


City limits

Today’s Draft London Housing Strategy is the boldest attempt yet seen from a Conservative administration to get to grips with the housing crisis. It still does not go remotely far enough.

In his foreword, mayor Boris Johnson says London is facing an ‘epic challenge’ of building more than 42,000 new homes a year, every year, for 25 years. Of these, 15,000 would be affordable and 5,000 for market rent.

That is no exaggeration. As he goes on to say, that is ‘a level of housebuilding unseen in our great city since the 1930s’. To put it in perspective, the average over the last 20 years, at a time when the population was growing rapidly, was 18,000 per year. London has not come close to 42,000 completions a year since the war, even at the peak of the council housing boom in the late 1960s.

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


Blaming the planners

Fix planning and you fix supply, fix supply and you fix the housing crisis. That’s the seductive argument that seems to be gaining ground.

My problem with it is not that it’s wrong. There is a dire shortage of new homes: completions are running at around half what’s needed to meet demand. Problems with the planning system can make supply too slow to respond to demand, constrain growth and make the crisis worse. It would be ridiculous to say otherwise.

It’s more that it’s too simple. It takes a kernel of truth and claims that it is the only truth. In its crudest form the argument is that all we have to do is sweep away ‘socialist’ planning and leave it to the market: in the 1930s there was no planning, private housebuilders were building over 250,000 homes a year and homes were affordable; the post-war Labour government required planning permission for new homes and prices have risen steadily higher ever since because the private sector has been unable to build enough homes.

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David Cameron and the £720,000 ‘affordable’ home

A comment on my blog a couple of weeks ago alerted me to a contradiction in terms: a £720,000 ‘affordable’ home.

The two-bedroom flat in Pear Tree Street, Islington appears on the Share to Buy website, the official home of the Mayor of London’s FirstSteps scheme that comes complete with the strapline ‘making housing affordable’. It’s available under a shared ownership, part-rent, part-buy scheme. As Tracy Dover commented: ‘I’d love to know who is eligible for shared ownership and can afford this!’

It can be yours for a £9,000 deposit plus monthly payments of £2,444 for rent, service charge and mortgage. By my calculations that represents around half the take-home pay of a household with the maximum eligible income of £80,000.

720

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Bonus culture

So has what started out as ‘a Rolls Royce idea’ ended up ‘a Reliant Robin policy in practice’?

That’s not me describing the New Homes Bonus but Conservative MP Stewart Jackson. Now a member of the public accounts committee (PAC), he was speaking at an evidence session in June ahead of its report published this morning. He was also a shadow communities minister at the time the bonus became a Conservative flagship policy.

With scepticism like that on the Conservative side it’s little wonder that the PAC has more scathing criticism of the handling of the policy. It follows an embarrassing verdict (for the DLCG) delivered by the National Audit Office (NAO) in March.

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


2020 vision

Ed Miliband’s conference speech was much vaguer about housing than the advance briefing but it still sounds like good news.

The Labour leader said that ‘we’ll have an aim that at the end of the parliament Britain will be building 200,000 homes a year, more than at any time in a generation’.

He said that in 2010 there were a million too few homes in Britain but that the shortfall would rise to two million – the equivalent of five cities the size of Birmingham – by 2020 if we carry on as we are.

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


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