One day, I’ll sit down to write for Estate Agent Today and I won’t express my dismay at the lack of tangible progress in righting the wrongs of the UK’s housing market. That won’t be today, however!
I shouldn’t be surprised. When Philip Hammond announced that he’d be approaching his fiscal statements in a new, more streamlined, way the ground was set for what would become a rather brief Spring Statement.
The first of those was delivered last week and it was certainly brief. You only need to look at the amount (or lack) of coverage it garnered in the media, not least of all the property titles, to realise that.
And so now, more than ever, I come away continuing to urge those in government to get their act together on housing. So much has happened in recent years that has skirted around improvements, that it would be understandable to believe that progress is being made. However, it really isn’t – or at least not enough, quickly enough!
The headline-grabbing announcement of last November’s Budget was the removal of Stamp Duty for most first-time buyers and last week we were told that 60,000 purchasers have taken advantage of this.
The question remains though, just what percentage of those were genuinely brought to the market because of the change of policy, and how many were already in the process of purchasing and benefitted by default?
We’ve also had endless promises of new homes being built, but a continued lack of evidence of this happening. I, for one, look forward to Oliver Letwin’s report which is anticipated to explain the gap between planning permissions and just hope that it really does lead to change.
And then there’s affordable and social housing. Whilst this is being looked at in pockets (an extra £1.7 billion to deliver 26,000 more affordable homes in the Capital, for example), it simply doesn’t go far enough.
The reality facing the Conservative Party, if it does genuinely want to capitalise on the economic strength it heralds and secure itself success at the next election, is that it’s going to HAVE to do something about the housing situation – and soon!
The nation is bored of Brexit and whilst attentions have currently moved to modern day espionage and state-sponsored assassination (apparently!), the reality is that it’s very much more ‘normal’ issues that are the vote winners. Housing simply must be a much more central focus and not just when it comes to publishing a new manifesto.
Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that housing policy ultimately needs to sit outside of politics but for that decision to be made, it will first need to rise up the list of political priorities. That means more action to follow the encouraging words we so regularly hear.
So, to those of you in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government please ensure that by the time Mr Hammond next delivers a Budget, he does so with some serious commitment and scheduled action.
If you require a check-list, I’m happy to provide the following as a starting point: the delivery of more affordable housing; tangible and achievable means to kick start the housing market; a thorough re-assessment of the stamp duty system; and a clear plan for expediting the planning system to deliver quality local homes.
On the current schedule, that next Budget is eight months away so don’t hang around: show us what you can do!
*David Westgate is Group Chief Executive of Andrews Property Group