Homes and planning placed front and centre

Apologies for my having been uncharacteristically quiet these last few weeks. UK Regeneration is gearing up to submit a major planning application on our site in the Oxford-Cambs corridor (more on this when I can relay it, I promise) and I have been uber-busy. Nose to grindstone. Total hair-shirt. Not even allowed my usual urban-regeneration-by-lunch excursions. It’s been hard. Let’s hope it is all worthwhile.

So… apologies for no comment on the Budget, particularly as it was rather an important Budget as far as our industry is concerned. And I have (perhaps belatedly) learned not to make lofty pronouncements on Budget proposals until they have landed; so probably no bad thing that I was keeping my powder dry. But now that the dust has settled, it must be said that anyone who thought that domestic policy was going to be neglected due to Brexit could not have been more wrong. Housing and planning was placed front and centre.

Fixing the broken housing market

It is a Conservative administration after all, so the narrative of the government remains firmly centred on “fixing the broken housing market” by increasing the opportunities and prospects for home ownership. But there is a tacit acceptance that we need new models of delivery; the budget represented a further step in implementing the planning reforms outlined in the Housing White Paper of January 2017. This is alongside the anticipated revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework expected next spring.

There was a lot of fantastic maneuvering in the run-up to November 22, which was great fun (wouldn’t have been quite so funny for the senior guys in Communities and Local Government and HM Treasury, but hey!) but extraordinarily, both Philip Hammond and Sajid Javid emerged victorious. Mr Javid is now unassailable. But the real victor from all this activity – as neatly predicted by EG editor Damian Wild in his editorial five days prior – is the rebooted HCA (which we must now learn to lovingly call “Homes England”) which has totally turned around its (hitherto toxic) brand by 180 degrees.

Desperately needed solutions

It is now fully regenerated as the go-to, can-do, solutions-oriented agency that our poor beleaguered nation so desperately needs (see also blog 24 May 2017). This is some feat to have pulled off. It is positioned to facilitate it all. My congratulations to Eddie Lister, and to Nick Walkley and Tom Walker; they have been fearless, they have worked hard, and they deserve total respect.

So, the multi-headed hydra of government is starting to detail further their expectations around the role of local authorities and developers in boosting the supply of new homes, to deliver 300,000 homes consistently every year by 2025, this represents an uplift from the present delivery of 217,000 homes last year.

The announcement of the injection of £44bn into housing has generally been welcomed by the industry, showing the government recognises the importance of housing, not just for its own inherent value but also as a key economic driver for the UK economy. Now, please, oh you cynics, leave to one side whether a sane response to repeatedly missing your targets is that you perpetually raise them further, and leave to one side that almost all of the £44bn is not new money; all of this certainly creates positive mood music around this most crucial of agendas.

Housing need

The figure of 300,000 homes a year is significant, not because it is attainable, but because it aligns with the identified housing need. But we all know it is a totally impossible ask without real structural change in the supply model. As things currently stand, the supply chain is simply not capable of delivering this number of homes. The fact is, the rate of supply cannot be so easily increased – particularly when the potential impact of Brexit is factored in – unless more emphasis and importance is placed on the industry to modernise and innovate around modern methods of construction, as preached ad nauseam by this blog and others. And MMC is merely a necessary, not sufficient, reform in housing delivery…

Blimey. Grappling with all this is enough to give anyone brain ache. No wonder people are looking forward to the Christmas break. I am being allowed out to lunch today for the first time in ages, as it is the UKR Christmas bash (I will be like the lad back in the orchard) and I intend to make the most of it. I shall be raising a glass to the Budget, to Homes England, and to all my well-meaning, hard-working, totally committed mates in Whitehall who have worked so tirelessly to get in place some real measures to stimulate housing delivery.

To send feedback, e-mail or tweet @jackiesadek or @estatesgazette