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UK housing: All change...or not as it turns out

Here we are again: another much anticipated Budget has been and gone and, yet, still nothing much has changed!

Yes, of course, there was the big Stamp Duty announcement. It captured the imagination of all headline writers and had all of us in the industry throwing our two pennies worth in. It was good news for those who will benefit, but as I said at the time, it simply didn’t go far enough.

And that’s what was fundamentally wrong with this Budget - it didn’t really make a difference at all.

I’ve pondered this over the last ten days. I’ve asked myself whether it was a Budget intended on getting things right, or whether it was simply a vote winner, or at least a vote appeaser!  

And as much as I don’t want to beat the same drum, I can’t help but think that this was simply more political rhetoric.

While first-time buyers and those in need of housing association properties will have been appeased, at least in the immediate aftermath, I wonder how many of the moves to support them were truly altruistic or focused on the wider needs of the housing market, and what element of needing to win votes back from Labour came in to play? Cynical? Yes, I probably am as this Budget feels like it only scratched the surface and barely that in many respects.

My cynicism continues with the next big headline grabber: the guarantee of 300,000 new homes being built each year. This should be good news. This is what we all know is desperately needed – indeed, it’s just the tip of the iceberg of what is really needed.

But, pledging that this will happen, isn’t the same as this actually happening. On the one hand, there’s the need to get the planning system fit for purpose, but then there’s the question of how to get the major players to free up the land that they’re sitting on. It shouldn’t simply be sat there, quietly increasing in value, when it’s so desperately needed for development.  

All too often, the landholders are, in fact, the developers themselves yet they’re not shouting loud enough to get things moving in the right direction. That leads me to suspect that the status quo works to their advantage.

However, let’s look on the bright side. Let’s assume that the situation does improve and that developers do work towards this 300,000 target. Where will the sufficiently trained tradespeople come from? Where will we magic the necessary raw materials from? Bricks are in short supply globally, remember.  

Are the conditions in place to build the homes that this country so desperately needs? I fear not. This year we’re wavering at around 150,000 new homes… there’s an awfully long way to go!

And this is why housing needs more than a cursory ten or fifteen-minute slot in the Chancellor’s annual Budget speech. We’re dealing with an ecosystem that extends far beyond simple bricks and mortar.

Regular readers of my musings will be familiar with my belief that what is really needed is a housing plan with a long-term vision - a housing policy removed from politics.  

The fact that each time we reach a political milestone, be it an election or a Budget speech, we do so with positive anticipation, only to come out deflated and disillusioned proves, to me at least, the absolute urgency in taking property away from politics. Politicians aren’t making a difference and I doubt they will, least of all whilst we live in times of such flux. 

So, as we reach that point in the year when we start to consider times ahead and resolve to make things better, perhaps I’ll make my New Year Resolution a commitment to working towards establishing a Housing Policy for UK Plc.  

The question is, are you with me in this or shall I expect to see you heading off on well-intentioned trips to the gym – at least until mid-January?!

*David Westgate is Group Chief Executive of Andrews Property Group

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