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By Graham Norwood

Editor, EAT, LAT & LLT

Graham Awards


Lies, Damned Lies, and House Building Targets

We’ve probably all learned to be a little less cynical about politicians in recent weeks, given the tragic events. We perhaps now have a greater understanding of what they do and how, compared to many of us, they have genuine contact with ‘real’ people all the time.

Which makes it all the more important that occasional nonsense is called out in a constructive way - not by abusing politicians but by indicating something that’s clearly wrong.

So in that spirit I mention the thorny subject of house building targets.


I’m not talking of the actual numbers used in the New Build Bingo that goes on between the parties - “We’re building 200,000 a year” against “No, we need 300,000 a year.”

Instead I’m talking about something more fundamental: I’m calling for honesty on the powers of government to build any homes at all.

This week’s Budget saw another bold claim, this time from Chancellor Rishi Sunak. This is what he said: “ …£11.5 billion to build up to 180,000 new affordable homes.”

This aim is both laudable and necessary, and heaven knows we need more affordable homes, but there’s just one hitch - the government does not build homes, and that money is to be allocated to identify and remediate land on which the housing may be built.

What it certainly is not, is a guarantee that those homes will be built.

This isn’t a party political point, as Labour has engaged in the same tub-thumping about house building targets as have the Conservatives. For good or bad, both major parties agree that it’s no longer the job of the state to build homes in any great volume.

So why do politicians suggest, sometimes through cleverly-phrased wording, that their governments are effectively building ‘x’ number of homes?

Partly, of course, it’s because politicians think people will vote for a clearly ‘good’ policy such as house building for future generations; partly, I suspect, it’s because politicians don’t want the public to see they don’t have real power over such a basic provision. And maybe it’s because MPs don’t want to admit to themselves that they have no power.

In the misty past of the post-World War Two era, councils would routinely build more homes than private developers and until the Thatcher government councils were still constructing 100,000 or more homes per year - but now that figure has plummeted.

And in England there is still Right To Buy meaning the net size of council stock is difficult to grow as homes are sold off, and anyway very few local authorities have anything that could be described honestly as a ‘house building programme.’

In reality, of course, decisions on the overwhelming majority of house building are with de-velopers running private companies.

They - naturally enough - act in the interests of their shareholders and investors. Why should they act in the wider public interest or for the benefit of politicians, when govern-ment itself chooses to leave it to the private sector?

I’m not arguing for or against this privatisation of house-building, but merely asking for more political candour.

If government won’t grasp the nettle of building homes itself, why pretend it has control over the numbers being built?

We would laugh if government told us how many cars it would build next year (even though public money is spent to ensure private car manufacturers locate their factories in certain areas); likewise vast sums of public cash subsidise what’s left of the steel industry, yet we wouldn’t expect political leaders to pledge to produce ‘x’ million tonnes in 2022.

So why do we even accept, let alone expect, politicians to make hollow and inevitably bro-ken pledges on house building figures?

It’s absurd, yet we seem to go along with it.

It’s time to politely but firmly say what it is - nonsense.

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

  • Andrew Stanton PROPTECH-PR A Consultancy for Proptech Founders

    178,000 in 2021.

  • Theodor Cable

    Ain't gonna happen.......NEVER...

  • Matthew Payne

    They dine out on the same funding and the same targets all the time as well. Thats the 3rd time that this £11.5bn has been heralded, twice before in the last 2 years by Robert Jenrick.

    The scarier thing is them believing their own BS. They say if you tell a lie often enough, you start to believe it, well this is a point in hand. Why else would they at the same time be creating a housing crisis over a 10 year period, allowing a population increase of 6.5m europeans without 6.5m homes for them, pretty much putting a stop to the requirements for any social housing, and beating landlords black and blue, so that from 2016 the PRS has actually started shrinking. A lot more people, a lot fewer properties, a lot less accessibilty to what few there are. Only those would be the actions of a government who believed thay were going to build 300k+ properties every year, year after year.


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