The Government has finally unveiled its plans to fix the ‘broken housing market’ in a white paper spanning 104 pages.
Among lengthy reiterations of existing housing policy schemes including Help to Buy were proposals to stop developers land banking, try to speed up planning approvals and support the delivery of more homes to rent.
But some experts have already dubbed the plans a ‘damp squib’ with little hope of fixing anything.
Secretary of State Sajid Javid told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme before revealing the bill: ‘People want a decent home to buy or a decent home to rent, it’s a choice for them, we should be helping both types of tenancies.’
But Shadow Secretary of State for Housing John Healey called the paper ‘feeble’ and added: ‘We were promised a white paper; we’ve got a white flag.’
He was not alone in his disappointment. Simon Gerrard, past president of the National Association of Estate Agents, summed up how most pundits in the industry felt about this long-awaited paper.
‘Today’s announcement shows that the Government is good at producing soundbites, but not realistic solutions. It demonstrates a lack of understanding of the market and what is required to fix it.
‘The schemes outlined will be discussed and debated for longer than they are implemented, with nothing new being offered. We need to simplify the system and make it easier to build homes that people want, quickly, and I am disappointed this has not yet been achieved.’
So what has the Government proposed in the paper?
Cutting red tape on planning
The Government wants to build the ‘right homes in the right places’. To do that, they’ve told local authorities in England (where they have jurisdiction to control housing policy – Scotland, Wales, London and Northern Ireland have their own) to come up with a plan by April 2018.
These plans will have to be based on meeting local demand for housing – including making sure that enough houses are built for older people and disabled people.
Then local authorities will have to stick to the plan and meet their target number of homes every year – unless, they don’t. In which case, the Government will get involved and ask them why they haven’t.
Jonathan Manns, head of regeneration and director of planning at Colliers International, said: ‘Dig into the (*cough*) detail and, beyond the hollow and misguiding rhetoric, there are odd tweaks to the status quo.
‘Councils, we’re told, should continue to review the targets in their local plans and ensure they’re up-to-date. Hardly ground-breaking but reassuringly familiar.’
The Government is also proposing to cut the time local authorities have to approve planning applications from three years to two.
Will it help? Gerrard doesn’t think so: ‘The introduction of capping the time between obtaining planning permission and starting construction to two years is misguided. It is not the timescale that hinders building across the UK, but the planning system itself.
‘All too often, permission is granted that is simply impossible to implement because local government departments do not communicate effectively with each other.
What does the white paper mean for you?
I want to downsize
After all the front pages screaming about incentives for older home owners to downsize yesterday, the word downsize didn’t appear once in the white paper. In fact no mention was made about the potential that cutting stamp duty or providing other incentives for last-time movers could have on freeing up family homes
The Government acknowledged the ‘many barriers to people moving out of family homes that they may have lived in for decades’ and then said they were ‘committed to exploring these issues further and finding sustainable solutions to any problems that come to light’. They’re not sure how yet.
Slightly more tangible support for older home owners instead came in the form of encouragement for builders to build homes appropriate for older people.
The International Longevity Centre has published research suggesting that there could be a retirement housing gap of 160,000 retirement homes by 2030. If current trends continue, the gap could grow to 376,000 homes by 2050.
Baroness Sally Greengross, chief executive of the ILC, said: ‘Local authorities must have a duty to assess the needs of their older population when making housing plans, and ensure that these needs are met before plans are put in place.’
But Trevor Clark, of financial planning firm Rutherford Wilkinson, called the paper ‘a damp squib for the older generation’.
He added: ‘The white paper did say that custom built houses are to be encouraged and the Government noted its support for sheltered, step down and extra care housing, which offers older people more confidence to move into a new home where their needs will be met.’
I want to buy my first home
There wasn’t a lot new for first-time buyers in the white paper – the Government just reiterated what it’s already doing for them in the shape of Help to Buy equity loans, Isas, shared ownership and Rent to Buy schemes.
‘The Government will help people save for a deposit, buy with a smaller deposit, buy at 20 per cent below the market price, buy the home they are renting from a social landlord, buy a share of a home or save a deposit while paying a below market rent. We will also target more investment into homes for Affordable Rent,’ said the white paper.
It did give a little bit more detail on Starter Homes for the first time though. This scheme is designed to let first-time buyers with an income of less than £80,000 (£90,000 for London) buy a new-build home with a 20 per cent discount on the price.
The new details included confirmation that these homes will have to be bought with a mortgage to avoid cash buyers speculating for profit and there will also be a 15 year repayment period for a starter home – so when the property is sold on to a new owner within this period, some or all of the discount is repaid.
Andrew McPhillips, chief economist at Yorkshire Building Society,said: ‘Financial obstacles are a real difficulty faced by first-time buyers and those moving up the property ladder. We hope Government outlines further policy proposals in the forthcoming Budget, such as considering making stamp duty a seller’s tax rather than a buyer’s tax, that have an immediate impact and long-term benefits.’