UK housing’s best chance in decades

jackie-sadek-570pxSo the Housing White Paper will definitely get launched tomorrow. I’m a bit embarrassed about how many times I have made predictions in public about the date, but it would seem that this time there is no room for doubt. And JLL has just put up the sainted Adam Challis to comment on Twitter this afternoon, so it must be true.

Gavin Barwell gave a most assured performance on the Robert Peston show yesterday; actually it was nothing short of masterly. And he was very much more interesting and authoritative than anyone else featured or, for that matter, anyone else who has been commenting on all this in recent days. His true ability as a policy wonk supremo is showing through. He is certainly a Housing Minister on top of his (admittedly rather fraught) brief.

The contents were all leaked to the Sun last week in any case, so the chances are there are no surprises left. And how clever was that then? Leaking it to a red top with a vested interest in supporting those “just about managing”, rather than letting the likes of the Daily Telegraph make any of the running, what with its ridiculous propensity for “Hands Off Our Land” hysteria. Actually, the Telegraph today carried a front page story “Ancient woodland to be given extra protection from housing developers” which made my heart sink, but actually it was quite a fair piece, and it was further balanced by a rather splendid comment column by Juliet Samuel in the editorial pages, who has assuaged much anxiety.

She says “For many people, buying a house now feels like a game rigged against them. Those who are excluded from a market eventually turn against it”. Bravo to Ms Samuel for nailing it. Let us hope she is setting a tone for this title for the next couple of weeks; the Daily Telegraph unashamedly backed Brexit last year, it purports to be on the side of Middle England, and it just cannot have it both ways.

For my own part, watching as I do, and knowing what I know of the Department, I confidently predict that this will be a most comprehensive policy framework document. This is set to be a much better Housing White Paper than any we have seen in two decades. Sure, there will be safeguards for the sacred green belt (people did learn from the National Planning Policy Framework) – yawn, yawn – and hopefully we’ll all get over ourselves on this particular shibboleth by the end of the week. And, further than mere safeguards for green belts and ancient woodlands, the government would be wise to have an explicit commitment to achieve a net-positive impact on the environment.

But of far more interest, is what will be being said to those on the demand side, those, as the construct has it, “just about managing”. And perhaps even more to be said to those of us on the supply side, those like UKR, attempting to disrupt the market. There will be a serious push for Modern Methods of Construction (the wondrous Mark Farmer will get to implement the findings of the BEIS/CLG Farmer Review, see blog 18 October 2016), a serious push (yet again) on the PRS, and there will be an explicit response to the needs of an aging population, including vehicles for down-sizing and step-up/step-down developments. Hopefully there will be measures to build out technologically enabled communities, in explicit recognition of new ways of working.

And there will be a nuanced and sophisticated recognition that the national housing market is the composite of a myriad number of local markets, all of which must play a part. This is when you see the virtue of the Local Plan process. But most of all you will see this government, in many instances for the first time, populating its more sensible policies, including a long overdue proper implementation of the NPPF… and finally finally finally delivering those garden villages and even the “Healthy Towns” (whatever they are).

The last word must go to my new hero Juliet Samuel, who wrote today “rising home ownership and the building it requires, has been an essential cornerstone of British democracy” and then “universal suffrage did not destroy the legitimacy of property, as the reactionaries had predicted. But if the housing shortage is not addressed, the fury of the masses will”. Give that woman a pay rise immediately. We need to fix this broken housing market. Whether this is motivated by moral imperative, or cynical political calculation, matters not right now. We need to house our people.

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