Attitudes towards new development soften

There is a broad consensus among politicians, analysts and commentators that Britain needs to build more housing. You can encounter dissent from that view, but it tends to be on the fringes – in deep UKIP anti-migrant territory or the paramilitary wing of the rural lobby.

The debate opens up when we start to examine why Britain is plagued with a relatively unresponsive housing supply system. On the political right and among many economists the problem is seen to lie with the planning system. Full stop. Economists with a more subtle understanding of the issues will argue it is the mismatch between the underlying spatial dynamics of economic growth and the planning system. For the more institutionally inclined, the analysis has to be broadened to encompass not just the planning system but also industrial structure of housebuilding and the concentrated nature of the market for land. Weakening the planning system without attending to the other components of the housing supply system won’t get you very far. It is very likely to lead to anger in local communities as their areas are trampled over by insensitive volume housebuilders throwing up unsympathetic developments which place additional strain on under-resourced local infrastructure.

The attitudes of local communities towards new development in their area is an important part of the equation in encouraging new supply. Because when we refer to “the planning system” it should be seen as a short hand for the way local political preferences are embedded in the systems for controlling spatial development. NIMBYism isn’t such a huge problem unless it has an institutional outlet and can affect what happens on the ground.

The publication today of the results of the 2013 British Social Attitudes survey evidence on attitudes towards new development suggest that things may be changing. [Read more...]

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Liberal Democrat travails over the bedroom tax

Well, well, well. It turns out that the bedroom tax isn’t such a good idea after all.

Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander have U-turned on the policy, ostensibly in the light of the (delayed) publication of interim report of the DWP evaluation. The report indicates that the policy largely isn’t achieving the objectives set for it.

Early tabloid headlines announcing that the Liberal Democrats were calling for abolition were misleading. Instead, what Clegg and Alexander would appear to have done is withdraw support for the policy in its current form and adopt a position broadly in line with the motion critical of the bedroom tax passed by Liberal Democrat conference last autumn in Glasgow. To be fair to NC he did state at the time of the Glasgow conference that the independent evaluation would be important in shaping support for the policy. And so, it would appear, it has proved to be. [Read more...]

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Making the case for the right to housing

There’s plenty happening in the housing world at the moment, and I’m not just Modern Housingtalking about last week’s parallel Manchester gatherings at the CIH annual conference and the HACT House Party.

We’ve seen IPPR launch a fuller version of its proposals for shifting housing subsidy away from housing benefit and back towards bricks and mortar. It attempts to tackle the thorny issue of how to find the money to subsidize new building while still paying housing benefit to those who need it, given that a future government isn’t likely to put a lot more money into housing.

We’ve also seen some high profile housing-related programmes on the television, particular in relation to the less wholesome aspects of private landlordism.

And, perhaps more significant in the short term, Mark Carney has turned talk of macroprudential regulation into some concrete proposals for capping loan-to-value ratios. Quite how that will affect the way the market evolves over the coming months is a tricky question to answer. The industry view would appear to be “not much“. Answering the question is made trickier by the emergence from the red corner of a much stronger set of proposals for a mansion tax. It has been argued that these proposals, coming on top of the well-established support for a mansion tax from the Liberal Democrats, bring such a tax a step nearer and, consequently, are having a chilling effect on the top end of the market in London.

Although the picture is murky, there is a quite a bit of talk at the moment about the market starting to soften. And that is even before interest rates rise. So we could be entering a new phase in the evolution of the market.

For me one of the most interesting developments over the last week or so is the appearance online of a paper by Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Bo Bengtsson and Beth Watts entitled Rights to housing: Reviewing the terrain and exploring the way forward (paywalled, unfortunately).

[Read more...]

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Home, security and locatedness

Bishop_James-003There seems to be an awful lot of housing news and comment circulating just at the moment. And it isn’t just more of the same. The arguments for a change of gear on housing policy seem to be growing louder and more frequent. The housing sector, it’s argued, needs to come out fighting. Some of this is no doubt about manoeuvring for position in the run up to the next election. But I don’t think it is only that.

Concerns about the consequences of current policy directions are growing. There’s a lively debate going on about the significance and consequences of the Government’s Affordable Rent programme, and whether or not participation in it means housing associations are complicit in the demise of social housing. There are suggestions that a change of government might herald a reorientation of housing policy. And there are growing concerns about the levels of gearing in the owner occupied sector and the impact that increased interest rates, as and when they arrive, are going to have on household budgets.

But perhaps the most interesting and important element of the debate is the discussion over housing supply. [Read more...]

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The government is solving the housing crisis, apparently

frameOn Thursday Kris Hopkins, the Housing Minister, published a post at the Spectator entitled This government is solving Britain’s homes crisis. The post was designed to coincide with the publication of statistics about the unlovely, and largely unloved, Help to Buy scheme. When I saw the post I was intrigued. It seemed, superficially, to be making a rather implausible claim. I anticipated an orgy of spin and statistical chicanery.

As it turns out I wasn’t too far off the mark. [Read more...]

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Housing pathology and paralysis

A few weeks ago Janan Ganesh in the FT described the UK housing market as an ‘institutionalised pathology’. The problems that the housing market is causing for the British economic and political system seemingly become ever more apparent by the day.

There is an increasingly strong coalition of opinion uniting behind the sort of radical action that is needed on housing supply to deal with the problems. The recent intervention by KPMG/Shelter, or the RSA, or today at the BBC website all set out prescriptions that bear more than a family resemblance.

And as a similar message emerges from different quarters it throws into sharper relief the timidity and short-term self-interest of the political class. The political economy of housing may have led politicians to a predictable level of inactivity. It may be that it is only if and when the private renter vote is effectively mobilised that change will occur. Perhaps only then will a government be brave enough to take on the countryside preservation lobby. But the problems intensify in the meantime. [Read more...]

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Shaping housing policy post-2015

Building Site - New Home ConstructionIt’s clear we’re already entering what is going to be a very long election campaign in the run up to May 2015. In the housing policy field we’re seeing plenty of organisations pitching ideas at the moment, with the aim of influencing the content of the manifestos for 2015. But we’re also seeing thinking aimed at shaping the programme for government post-election, whichever flavour of government we are landed with.

All the parties are ostensibly signed up to the idea that we need to increase housing supply dramatically. So setting out the steps likely to be needed to achieve that objective is a worthwhile exercise.

Enter the novel partnership of KPMG and Shelter. [Read more...]

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Ed’s brave housing proposal

Rent House Showing Rental Property Estate AgentsRent regulation and three year tenancies. That’s Ed’s big housing idea for the private rented sector. It is what the people wanted. Well, quite a lot of people appear to support the idea.

But even before the formal announcement has been made it is apparent that some are vehemently against. The initial voices of outrage were those one might have anticipated. The incorrigible Mr Shapps and the Adam Smith Institute, ably supported by that other cheerleader for deregulated markets City AM were quick off the mark in condemning Labour’s proposals for ‘rent control’ in lurid terms. It is little short of socialism, red in tooth and claw. Assar Lindbeck’s famous quote about rent control being the best way to destroy a city apart from bombing was dusted off and given another airing.

Those in the red corner were supportive of the initiative as a follow-on to Labour’s energy price freeze. Mark Ferguson at Labour List welcomed the move and argued that Miliband needs to stick to his plan in the face of the inevitable criticism – this is a bold move and should be proclaimed as such.

Ferguson finishes his post by noting that a quarter of Conservative MPs are private landlords. Which is no doubt a useful piece of information when interpreting the howls of outrage which will inevitably follow today’s formal policy announcement.

But are rent regulation and longer tenancies a good idea? [Read more...]

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Dissent in the ranks

Modern HousingYou’d expect lefties to kick up a fuss about the Coalition’s austerity-justified policies. An agenda that is having serious negative impacts upon the most vulnerable, while at the same time transferring wealth to the already wealthy, will have a tendency to annoy those who prioritize solidarity, dignity and security over the search for profit and the appeasement of plutocrats.

But that can be dismissed as just so much hot air from the naïve and irresponsible.

The problems really begin when your own people start cutting up rough.

And perhaps we’re beginning to detect that that is what is happening in the housing sphere. [Read more...]

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