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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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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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...]

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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...]

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This land is your land

Land surveyorsWe are used to thinking of NIMBYism as a parameter of the housing policy debate. The survey evidence suggests that anti-development sentiment is deep rooted and hard to shift. It is a constraint that we must work within – something to work around – rather than something to be challenged.

It is increasingly clear that NIMBYism is taken as a brute fact within the political sphere. Last month we heard that, despite apparent earlier enthusiasm, the Conservatives have gone cold on the idea of a new generation of new towns. Eric Pickles is reported to have poured cold water on the proposals because of the fears over the likely electoral cost to the Conservatives in constituencies in the rural South East. And today the Telegraph reports that Nick Boles has been told to mind his language over “aggressive planning talk”. His pro-development – and pro-developer – stance is upsetting the forces of conservatism. [Read more...]

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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...]

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Careful now

Richmond HillIf you were entertaining any idea that changes to property and land taxes could help to curb the volatility of the UK housing market then just stop it. That is the message of a new report Taxing Issues? released by the Policy Exchange this week. This is a highly political document, and fascinating as a result.

The think tank offers a host of reasons why property and land taxes just won’t do the trick.

The report starts from the premise, based on OECD figures, that the UK already has the most highly taxed property in the developed world. This premise is, if not erroneous, then rather misleading. The OECD includes all sorts of things in the calculation to arrive at that figure – including business rates. Business rates are largely irrelevant to managing the housing market. Except the rhetorical strategy adopted by Taxing Issues? means that they aren’t.

The reasons for thinking property taxes will fail to deliver reduced volatility are a melange of some reasonable points, some basic economic theory, some casual empiricism – including making brief reference to a range of non-comparable taxes in other countries, and a massive dose of street-fighting politics. [Read more...]

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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...]

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Britain’s property problem

[Originally posted at LSE British Politics and Policy blog, 14/08/13]

New build, increaseThis week has brought a slew of news about the UK housing market. Industry commentators are telling us the sector has “turned a corner”: levels of market activity increased significantly in July alongside a sharp upturn in prices. Average prices are now near or above those reached prior to the 2007-8 crash, although experience is diverging across the regions.

While some news outlets are reporting these developments in decidedly positive terms, the commentary is more mixed and critical than perhaps the government would like. As prices rise more households are shut out of the home ownership market. This in turn can have negative consequences for private rent levels. For those within reach of home ownership affordability is deteriorating: first time buyers are having to borrow more, when wages are largely stagnant. Loan-to-value ratios are reported to be edging up towards levels that must be deemed unwise. And all this is happening at a time when many existing home owners are only managing to sustain their current commitments because we are experiencing an unprecedented period of very low interest rates. [Read more...]

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Top blogging on housing policy

BlogA bunch of statistics about the housing market have been published over the last few days. Housing issues have been hitting the headlines in the mainstream media harder than is usually the case.  A number of the key pressure groups have made the point forceful that current developments in the housing market are by no means entirely positive. It is interesting and welcome to see commentators who usually focus on the economy more broadly also getting in on the act and giving attention to our pressing housing problems.

But the mainstream media does not always have the time, the space, or possibly the inclination, to do justice to the complexity of the issues. In that respect the blogosphere comes into its own.

Without the strict constraints of maximum word counts or limits on the the use of images, expert bloggers can often quickly produce better informed and more indepth analysis than is possible in other media. [Read more...]

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