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Industry protests work – so keep them up

It’s been a heartening few weeks for those of us who thought that protest was dead – or, more precisely, that protest was pointless.

My scepticism had reached a stage where whenever I heard the claim that a local council or a government department was ‘consulting’, I felt obliged to raised an eyebrow and tell myself this was simply another rubber-stamping of a pre-agreed course of action.

However, my cynicism has been turned on its head in recent months.

Firstly the Cameron government (remember that?) swiftly reversed a uniquely odd idea to include granny annexes and similar self-contained parts of homes in the additional properties three per cent stamp duty surcharge. 

Once the combined opposition of Eric Pickles, the Daily Telegraph and a few hundred angry emails reached the Treasury, a U-turn was announced.

Secondly, North Somerset council changed its mind over landlord licensing – not, one senses, because the system was considered a blunt instrument when it comes to improving the private rental sector, but instead because of a protest group. 

This was the Somerset Property Network which quickly got 50-plus landlords on board thanks to a simple Facebook post. The landlords rose up and the council ran backwards.

Now the same thing has happened with the extension of landlord licensing in, of all places, Wandsworth: yes, unlikely as it seems, a London council that has been legendary for its hard-nosed approach has changed its mind because of the weight of protests.

This week provided another example. 

Most people believe the government has now dropped its proposal to privatise the Land Registry. Protests against this came in thick and fast, and not just from the usual suspects: instead, the Competition and Markets Authority, RICS, the Conveyancing Association and the Residential Property Surveyors’ Association all weighed in against the idea, as did you (probably) and me (certainly). By the looks of it, the government has just walked away.

So far, so good, and I know those even more cynical than myself can point to protests that have proven unsuccessful. For example, there was opposition (and some) from much of the high-end agency sector against the increases for stamp duty on properties selling in excess of £937,000. Those howls went unheeded.

Far more protests came in response to that series of fiscal measures against landlords (mortgage interest relief reductions, Wear & Tear allowance and the like). That opposition, too, fell on stony ground – particularly stony around the area of George Osborne’s in-tray – although perhaps new Chancellor Phillip Hammond may yet prove more conciliatory.

Yet the four examples I gave above – be they expedient U-turns or genuine responses to the results of consultation – give hope that as an industry we should not be afraid to hold our heads above the parapet and complain when something is wrong. 

With a new government claiming it wants to listen and not lecture, we may see more U-turns ahead. 

Get those letters to MPs and those online petitions ready; form an orderly line to pick up those placards. Protests are once again paying off.

*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting all things property @PropertyJourn

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