Doing something about housing

Modern HousingWhat to do about the housing crisis? It’s a question that, should you have been so inclined, you could have focused on throughout much of yesterday’s proceedings at Liberal Democrat Spring Conference.

A motion on the reform of planning policy was passed, unamended, during the morning’s official business. The motion was particularly critical of the role of the Planning Inspectorate and the Communities Secretary in overriding local democracy and aspirations.

The programme for the conference fringe offered you a near overdose of housing. The lunchtime fringe included a session on social housing jointly organised by CentreForum, The Fabian Society and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. On the – metaphorical – platform were Sir Michael Lyons, Tim Farron, and Kathleen Kelly of JRF. The session was packed.

The early evening fringe offered a session asking where new housing should be built, organised by the Green Liberal Democrats. Mid-evening allowed you to move on to consider private renting, in a session organised by ALDC, before finishing up with a reappearance of Tim Farron among those at a late evening session on Liberal Democrats in Housing – the future of the priced out.

I have to admit I didn’t manage to stay the course. I was feeling a bit too rough and had to have a very early night – not at all appropriate behaviour at conference, I realise, but I couldn’t do much about it.

What points would I draw from the sessions that I attended? [Read more...]


Policy Unpacked #2 – Housing shortage and housing supply

Policy Unpacked logoThe issues of housing shortage and increasing housing supply feature prominently in current debates over how to deal with the UK housing crisis. Housing analysts often seek to place these urgent policy problems in the context of the longstanding issue of excess volatility in the UK housing market, and alongside an exploration of how we might make better use of the existing housing stock.

In this podcast I discuss a range of issues around housing supply with Ken Gibb, Professor of Housing Economics at the University of Glasgow and Director of Policy Scotland.  (Running time: 45′ 56″) [Read more...]


Vince on “social housing”

6162309761_6e59bfde6d_nVince Cable made a substantial speech to the Royal Economic Society at the beginning of this week. The speech is worth reading in full because it represents one of the most thorough, thoughtful and wide-ranging perspectives on the economy that you are likely to hear from a front bench politician. Vince very clearly differentiates his position from that of the Conservatives on a whole host of points. He also, in my view, provides a more balanced assessment of the nature of economic policy under Coalition than you are likely to get from any member of the Quad. Vince does not pretend that the Coalition has adhered resolutely to plan A in the face of temptations to change course. Rather he acknowledges that things have not played out in the way that was anticipated in May 2010. He acknowledges that the recovery, though real, is not balanced and consequently places a welcome emphasis upon the continuing need to rebalance the economy and upon investment.

Vince identifies four major areas of policy action in pursuit of a sustainable, balanced recovery. These are “boosting the disposable income of low and middle earners; stimulating business investment (with the help of public investment); taking action, including through the industrial strategy, to tackle bottlenecks in skills, business finance, exports and UK supply chains; and building lots of new homes”. There is much that could be said about his thoughts under each of these headings, but my eye was inevitably drawn to his comments on housing. [Read more...]


Shifting ground on housing?

Building Site - New Home ConstructionSomething interesting is happening in the world of housing policy. At least it feels that way in my more optimistic moments.

Since the Coalition government produced its housing strategy in late 2011 there has been a lot of talk about the need to deal with the housing problem, particularly on housing supply, but the action has been an order of magnitude short of what is required. With the exception of the lumbering lunacy of Help to Buy and some more focused initiatives to unblock stalled sites, there has been relatively little concerted action aimed at getting the market moving. Arguably the NPPF has worked in the opposite direction. Sure there was some talk of a new generation of garden cities. Yes there have been modest initiatives to encourage self-build. But housing supply is still at historically low levels. And yet the housebuilding industry is hitting capacity constraints.

Nothing has been attempted that you might call transformative. [Read more...]


Boris’s housing plan

[This post originally appeared at The Conversation under a different (longer) title, 27/11/13]

London’s population is increasing rapidly and forecasts say this growth is set to continue over the next decade and more. However, the last time the capital had enough new houses to match this rate of population growth was the 1930s. Homes are becoming less affordable; needs and aspirations are going unfulfilled. London has a housing problem of serious dimensions.

This week, Boris Johnson gave us an indication of what he is proposing to do about the situation, with the publication of another draft housing strategy for consultation.

The strategy starts with a broadly sensible diagnosis of the nature, complexity, and consequences of the housing problem. The scale of the problem is already alarming, and it is only going to get worse.

The document is equally interesting when it moves on to proposed solutions. [Read more...]


New towns parked?

Modern HousingOne of the few policy proposals that has been able to gain support across the political spectrum is the idea that we need a new generation of new towns. If we are going to make a serious attempt to address England’s housing problems we are not going to be able to do it with incremental growth around the edges of existing settlements. Either housebuilding on the fringes will be on too modest a scale to make a dent in the problem or, if plans are scaled up, they are likely to run into implacable local opposition and make impact on the problem at all.

Eighteen months ago David Cameron was making all sorts of positive noises about the Coalition’s plans to identify suitable locations for new towns. But it’s all gone a bit quiet since then.

Jim Pickard at the FT today notes that:

The communities department had been expected to unveil a “prospectus” setting out ways to create new garden cities. But the announcement has been cancelled on at least two occasions in the past year.

Today has also seen the launch of the 2014 Wolfson Prize in Economics, which is focusing on precisely the issue of new settlements.

Progress? Possibly not. [Read more...]


Miliband’s housing promises reflect an escalating crisis

[Originally posted at The Conversation, 25/09/13]

Modern Housing

The commentariat has gone into overdrive in the wake of Ed Miliband’s speech to the Labour party conference. Does it represent, at last, the shattering of the neoliberal consensus? Is it the articulation of a vision for a more inclusive and humane social democratic future? Or is it the sound of the clock being wound back to the bad old days of the 1970s, and a Labour leadership only marginally to the right of Fidel Castro?

Miliband’s speech roamed across relatively broad policy terrain, with the announcement of an energy price freeze generating the most coverage. But I want to look a little more closely at what he had to say about housing policy.

The measure that had been heavily trailed prior to the speech was the abolition of the so-called “bedroom tax”. This will prove popular with many voters, even if they are not directly affected by it. The underoccupancy penalty, as it is officially known, represents a policy blunder of some considerable magnitude.

You may or may not agree with the principle. There are plausible arguments for and against. But it is hard to disagree that the policy has been implemented in a context almost guaranteed to ensure that its stated aims are frustrated. [Read more...]


Aggressive intolerance as a substitute for aggressive housing policy?

info signageSomething’s been bugging me, but I’ve not fully thought it through. That may well become apparent in a bit.

I’ve a sense there is a link that isn’t being made as effectively as it needs to be.

Within the housing policy community there is a widely shared presumption that housing supply in the UK has been inadequate for at least the last couple of decades. The detailed numbers can be debated, but there is broad agreement that the number of homes constructed annual falls well short of the numbers needed to meet the growth in the household numbers. At the moment we are operating at around half – or perhaps a little more – of the rate of new build that most commentators consider necessary. So the shortfall continues to increase. As a consequence we witness problems of affordability and access. Rapid tenure transformation – the resurgence of private renting – can also, partly, be explained by this lack of supply. [Read more...]


The problem of housing supply

Housing supply and the pressing need for additional investment in new housing are making significant progress up the political agenda.

Today’s Times carries an opinion piece by Tim Montgomerie that makes the case for more investment forcefully. It is an argument directed at Conservatives. Montgomerie calls for political focus upon aspiration for younger people rather than the NIMBYism of older people. It will be interesting to see whether the idea that Tories should style themselves a pro-aspiration party that therefore supports a substantial house building programme will gain any traction.

Today also saw the publication of the RICS Housing Commission report. I’ll blog about that as soon as I’ve had chance to digest it.

phs front coverWe are getting hints that there will be money for housing investment in this week’s Spending Review, in order to soften the blow of significant cuts elsewhere.

For those of us who have been exercised about the issue of housing supply for many years the increased media and political attention is welcome. We can but hope that it is not a fleeting moment, quickly past. Rather let’s hope it is a sign that the political elite is, at last, getting serious about a problem that for too long has been only too evident to many people outside the Westminster bubble.

I have been blogging about the issue of housing supply every now and again over the last couple of years. I have now brought together a selection of these posts into a collection called The problem of housing supply. The collection touches on issues such as land use planning, the house building industry, and the land market. It also considers a number of Coalition Government policies including Localism and Help to Buy.

The collection is available below the fold here or via the bookshop. [Read more...]


Is use it or lose it the answer?

Garden plan View SketchThe components of a Labour housing policy are gradually being revealed. First we had some pronouncements on the need for longer tenancies and more stability in private renting. Then we had the idea that what we need is less money spent on benefit and more spent on building affordable rented housing. And yesterday we had Ed Miliband comments on boosting housing supply, as part of a wide ranging speech on the theme The discipline to make a difference.

The central contention was that the key to the housing supply problem is land hoarding – organisations and individuals owning land that could be developed but with no intention of developing it. This is a practice that needs to be discouraged, principally by giving local authorities more powers, including time-limiting planning permissions. [Read more...]