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Jonathan Rolande: Four General Election housing ideas that would get my vote

Whether a General Election is held in May, November or in January one thing is guaranteed -  we can expect to hear endless announcements of proposed new policies: most of which will never see the light of day. 

I’m sure Brenda from Bristol is already putting her fingers in her ears.  

If she’s not then she should steel herself for the usual fanfare of housing promises designed to help persuade people how one party or one leader has all the answers to solving the problems we face in our sector. 

Earlier this month the latest one emerged when it was reported that Rishi Sunak is pushing for Jeremy Hunt to bring in measures that would allow first time buyers to access 99 percent mortgages. 

The idea secured huge swathes of media coverage, appearing on the front of some newspapers. 
Job done. Gold star for the PR team at Number 10. 

Except there’s actually something dangerous going on here. 

Dangling the carrot of 99 percent mortgages might be a potential vote-winner, and it might also appeal to some who are desperately struggling to get their foot on the ladder.

But it’s a perilous quick fix. It’s sticking plaster policy to try and help treat a sector which risks bleeding out if we don’t face up to the supply-side issues in the market. 

What gets my vote, and what I’m also convinced would win wider support across the sector, are long term policies. And policies which look to deliver sustainable change. I’ve mentioned in this column before how keen I’d be to see stamp duty reductions for older homeowners looking to downsize.

It won’t solve all the problems, but it would  free up tens of thousands of bedrooms. Plus, it’s worth noting that at any one time up to 8m older people are considering downsizing. The market is huge. 

Another huge problem is the number of empty homes in our country. Right now there are 250,000 long-term empty homes. Owners need to be incentivised to bring them back to use where possible. If even 50% did so, that would provide a new home for up to 300,000 people.

I’d also like to see a party increase rent a room tax relief. This was last done in 2016 - and means an owner can earn up to £7500 tax-free. Since 2016 rents have increased 50% in many areas pushing many landlords into paying tax and discouraging others from renting rooms.

And finally seeing as this is the year for big ideas why not stand on a mantra of actually building entire new towns. 

We need hundreds of thousands of new homes, only new towns will dent the appalling shortfall.
Yes, it’s a grand idea.  

But housing is a big problem which needs big ideas - not politicians happy to just be big on delivering soundbites between now and polling day. 

  • Matt Faizey

    Whole new town?
    Have you thought that through?

    Time limiting planning permissions to get developments started, and then finished might be a start.

    As would forcing developers to keep option agreements to a maximum of 9months, and have them on a public register. Therefore creating knowledge of which landowners will sell, and when they might be approached afresh. To create competition, and ultimately force developers to get developments started quicker.

    Next on the list would be allowing councils to grant PP on sites allocated in emerging local plans deemed suitable for development by the inspectors during examination. Which would clear a lot of backlog from the NPPF review farce.

    Jonathan Rolande

    Good ideas there Matt but with smaller households and the population growing fast, a new town would help to solve a big problem with the benefit of economy of scale. We need 100's of thousands of homes to give young people a chance imo.

  • Matt Faizey

    Oh I agree with you on that.
    The timescale to plan, fund and build a new town would be eons however. Just the site allocation would likely take 5-7 years. It's taking Councils 2 years just to develop a local plan!

    Personally I'd like more competition between developers that brings the focus on speed rather than deep pockets, hence the suggestion I made.

    Then, when you research the current situation with the quite astonishing number of local plans delayed, paused and in abeyance due to the recent NPPF review farce.....There must be high tens of thousands (measured in units) of PP's in on a pre-emptive basis across the country waiting on those plans to finalise.

    Councils could be allowed to determine those now assuming the Inspectors have agreed on the sites allocation into the eventual plan. This could even be temporary, for those plans started, but paused or delayed.

    It'd get construction up and running and assist with the current dire financial position in the sector. While also generating eventual cash for skint Council coffers sooner than otherwise.

    All the above is supply side stimulus.
    As opposed to the daft demand side focus that Gov always has like with 1% deposits.

  • Jonathan Rolande

    Exactly! Don't get me started on that 1% thing! Liam Halligan has written a book called Home Truths, loads of what you said in it, I recommend it, although it makes the blood boil a bit.

    Matt Faizey

    Already consumed that one. And yes, it's very very good


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