A Housing Policy that works for all

This year’s conference in Bournemouth was a sight to behold. The hall was alive with hope and enlivened by enthusiasm for the breaking of a new dawn in the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats. Brexit naturally grabbed the headlines and the new Revoke policy was the talk of the bars and break-out rooms.

Housing was therefore not a hot contender for the headlines, but it was certainly not forgotten. I was pleased to meet with Sir Vince Cable MP while we were in Bournemouth, who is formulating the party’s housing policy for the forthcoming election. Working with Tim Farron MP, he is seeking to create a manifesto and policy platform which will help the many thousands of families not yet able to get on the housing ladder. It was also refreshing to see that, in contrast to the Labour Party, there is an overarching understanding within the Liberal Democrats that without involving the private housebuilding sector, as opposed to demonising it, there will be neither the capability nor appetite for delivery of the 300,000 new homes per annum that the Liberal Democrats have pledged to create

Against this backdrop came the news that house price growth is at its slowest since 2012, causing joy and misery in equal measure. House prices are lower in about half of the UK’s regions including the south east, London and the north east. Elsewhere, there has also been a cooling off. This is not expected to change as we look ahead to 2020. If you can get a mortgage, rates are at rock bottom but with uncertainty over Brexit, plus a shortage of properties, there would appear to be little movement.

At the top end of the market the picture is equally grim. The Times reports that, since the start of 2014, around £47 billion worth of homes have failed to be sold. This means the treasury has lost about £4.8 billion in revenue.

“Why should we care?”, say the thousands unable to get a toehold on the property ladder. The reason it is pertinent is because we all live in an interlinked housing market. If there is a freeze at the top it causes stagnation and lack of movement at the bottom and everywhere in between. This hits prices and ensures that sellers find reasons to stay, rather than to move.

The changes in stamp duty have not helped to lubricate the market, in fact they have done the exact opposite. This is one area that must be reviewed when it comes to a housing policy that works for all. We need to encourage builders to build and homeowners to move.

The Conservative party has failed miserably to understand or embrace the importance of housing, having just appointed their ninth housing minister in as many years. The Labour party appears to want state control over land, ignoring the need for actual builders to create properties, most of whom are employed by private contractors. We must learn from their mistakes and create an equitable, and above all deliverable, housing offer.

Richard Steer is Chairman of Gleeds Worlwide.

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