Disruption is welcome, but housing is a long-term game

COMMENT: MIPIM UK last week offered its usual shot in the arm to the property market. I came back fairly pumped with new ideas and (yet another) bulging card case, particularly for all the opportunities in the Constellation area; most especially around Crewe station (the “Canary North” proposition, see blog 5 May 2017). I’ll write more on this in the future.

Sadly (for me at least) it was my last outing as chair of the Constellation Partnership as I have to return to focus on my day job of becoming a serious housing disruptor, but here I am promising 100,000 new homes to Jake Berry, the Northern Powerhouse minister and Top Bloke. A cat can look at a king. I take the view that it is not so much “farewell” to the Constellation, more “au revoir”. Having fallen in love with the wilds of Staffordshire and Cheshire, you can’t blame me for having the aspiration to actually deliver some of that new housing. But naturally that is still very much a gleam in the eye…

So… back to being a housing disruptor then… in a part of the world a little bit further south.

Well! There is no question that communities and local government secretary Sajid Javid has put the cat among the pigeons with his proposal for a standard methodology for calculating local housing needs UK-wide. Some local authorities are squealing in outrage (and not just the 156 that are being asked for more, there are a few of the 148 who are being asked for less who are bleating-for-Britain too).

But the intention is to specifically increase housing delivery in areas of lower affordability, which is clearly to be applauded. And the advantage of the new method is that it is so simple, there is no fudge (and whatever the outcome of the consultation, this simplicity is a virtue; the Department would be ill-advised to allow any sign of a shift on the basic methods). The consultation period still has until 9 November to run, but there are already signs that it will achieve its objective of accelerating the adoption of Local Plans. Whether that then feeds through to boosting housing supply remains to be seen…

Just the day before MIPIM UK, rather entertainingly, Mrs May, our prime minister, had called a bunch of housing folk into a Downing Street summit, after pledging to “dedicate” her premiership to fixing the “broken” housing market. She said she would “lay down a challenge” to the industry to construct more homes, in a “significant intervention”, following her promise at the Tory party conference to get more people onto the housing ladder. A brave piece of theatre, but the Whitehall rumour has it that the invitation list was “very old school” or, worse still, “all the wrong people”. Good to learn that the local authority sector was at the table, at least. But where were we disruptors? (Actually a better question might be: who actually are the disruptors?).

There is nothing short of a full-scale panic under way. Apparently there are letters, and interdepartmental memos, and all sorts flying around. And our industry should be finding it something of a relief that the penny has finally dropped with the Tories. One “senior cabinet minister” told The Sun “We have to get more homes built, it’s as simple as that. If we can’t get more people owning homes by 2022 we’ve lost.” Let’s hope his (or her?) backwoods girls and boys are listening. Thus dawns the era of the YIMBY. Finally.

And then… well great fun and games over the last few days. On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday Sajid Javid said NOW was the time to borrow cash to help build the 300,000 homes a year the country needs to solve the housing crisis. Apparently Mr Javid was hoping for a £50bn war chest from the Treasury to kick-start a building programme. Trebles all round.

But then only yesterday chancellor Philip Hammond, when asked in the Commons to confirm if this was government policy answered a flat: “No” and continued: “It is not responsible to make so-called hard choices by loading the price on to the next generation and the generation after that”. And, further still, that he would not comment on “Budget speculation”.

So who knows where this leaves us all? Deep sigh. I guess we await the Budget. In the meantime the cabinet seems to be in disarray, with nobody agreeing on the way forward. And, as ever with the housing crisis, the problem is relatively easy to define and articulate, whereas the solution remains totally shrouded in mystery.

As observed here, ad nauseam, boosting housing numbers is a long-term game. Far longer than any political cycle.

To send feedback, e-mail jackie.sadek@ukregeneration.org.uk or tweet @jackiesadek or @estatesgazette

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