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Don't rely on politicians to solve housing crisis, says Phil Spencer

Phil Spencer is on the warpath against “constant tinkering” by government in housing matters - and instead, he wants the problems to be considered by experts, not meddling politicians.

Writing in the i newspaper over the holiday season, Spencer - the former buying agent who co-hosts Location, Location, Location - says the housing issue is catnip to politicians, along with the NHS and employment.

He writes: “Barely a month goes by without the launch of some new measure – be it an incentive for first-time buyers or a squeeze on buy-to-let investors – which generates headlines and soundbites aplenty for the Government. Whether this constant tinkering actually makes a difference to the fundamental problems in the housing market is another matter.”

Spencer may well be speaking for many in the industry when he continues: “Cynics conclude that such grand ministerial announcements are more about photo opportunities than fixing long-term, systemic issues. I, for one, would be happy never to see another picture of a smiling Chancellor of the Exchequer in a hardhat pretending to lay bricks on a building site.”

He says there are templates for how the issues over housing and estate agency industry reform - and one is the move away from allowing politicians to interfere with interest rates. 

“Days after he became Chancellor, Gordon Brown stunned financial markets by handing control of monetary policy to the Bank’s independent experts. Two decades on and they still meet every month, to objectively and authoritatively set interest rates according to the needs of the economy – not party politics” says Spencer.

He says that Britain needs a similar approach to housing, where “our chronic shortage of homes need long-term solutions, not quick fixes.”

He calls for a National Housing Commission which with the right expertise and power could transform the housing market. 

“This is important because sometimes policies which work in the short-term do long-term damage. For example, Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy scheme was enormously popular at the time and it did help millions of people get on the housing ladder for the first time. But Britain is now paying a high price for its legacy – a cripplingly low level of social housing, which leaves too many people competing for insufficient and expensive private housing” he says.

However, Spencer notes that conquering the housing problem would be a major coup for any politician - and this means that no party wants to take a hands-off approach to the current crisis. 

“[In 2019] Britain’s future relationship with the EU should be decided. But I’d also like to see it decide the future shape of our housing market – not for an electoral cycle or two, but for a generation. Such decisions are too important to be left in the hands of politicians, and we should empower the brightest and best experts to help our leaders make decisions that don’t just matter now, but will do for decades” Spencer concludes.

This article was not Spencer’s only sortie into the political minefield over the holiday period.

As we reported over Christmas, Spencer criticised developers for continuing to build and market leasehold houses, long after the government effectively banned them.

Spencer says: "A year on from the government’s pledge to ban the sale of new build leasehold houses, thousands of buyers are still being allowed to sleepwalk into leasehold limbo. And in a further, ironic twist, many are even being encouraged to do so by the Help to Buy scheme.

“Millions of Britons live happily in leasehold homes. But anyone buying a leasehold property needs to do so with their eyes wide open, and should take legal advice to understand the obligations that go with owning a home this way.”

Spencer made the comments, and wrote his i article, under the auspices of the Move IQ advice website that he has co-founded.

  • Andrew Ireland

    The housing market is a calculus of three fundamental moving parts.
    1. The slow and inevitable inheritance of wealth by descendants of those who owned houses enabled to bid property prices up.
    2. Very low interest rates which permit large capital sums of money to be borrowed at an affordable monthly outgoing.
    3. The shortage of housing supply almost entirely due to a sclerotic ridiculously risky planning process which is managed by unaccountable bureaucrats with no interest in planning outcomes.

    Restrict the first two and open the flood gates on the last, problem solved.

    Trouble is what would become of all those with super large mortgages, wealthy parents and no pensions? Guess they would vote that one out straight away. :(

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