Why are we building new homes at the slowest rate since the war?

By Tony Abel, managing director of Abel Homes based in Norfolk

So the dust has settled, and our shiny new coalition Government is getting down to work.  This is not necessarily something that we should be concerned about; after all, around three-quarters of all the Governments in Europe, including the most stable, are coalitions.  And if voting reform happens, we will just have to get used to the idea. On housing at least, there is some common policy ground between the Conservatives and Lib Dems.  Already we have seen the ending of Home Information Packs (HIPs) and the extension of the stamp duty holiday for first-time buyers purchasing properties for less than £250,000.  The political horse-trading has also knocked into the long grass the Lib Dem ‘Mansion Tax’ on properties worth over £2 million. Welcome as these measures may be, they are only a sideshow to the main issue, which is the fact that there is still a massive housing deficit – and we are building new homes at the slowest rate since the Second World War. So will the coalition’s proposals to abolish regional planning and return power to a more local level help solve the problem?  It is clear that the current planning system is simply not delivering the volume, but the problem with vesting planning strategy at a local level is that it becomes subject to unreasonable local pressure groups and ‘NIMBY’ attitudes: ‘yes, we need new housing, but not here’.  At least setting strategy on a regional level means that the bigger picture is taken into account by professional planning officers that (mostly) understand the very complex nature of creating a new cost effective and sustainable community. Alongside all of this is an inevitable squeeze on Government spending, and housing budgets will by no means be immune.  This means less grant funding for affordable homes, which at the same time puts pressure on private house builders to fill the gap, but deprives them of some of the wherewithal to do so.  My understanding is that the Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) may not have the funding to acquire the volume (a percentage of private units) of social housing units that will be required to be built under the current planning policies. New housing minister Grant Shapps is the tenth person to fill that role in 13 years.  Let us hope that David Cameron’s commitment to stable government means that he stays in the job long enough to tackle some of the burning issues – things like the continuing mortgage drought, making more land available for development, and ensuring that the planning process enables us to meet the pressing housing need.  Unfortunately, Mr Shapps – unlike his Labour predecessors – seems to have been denied the right to attend Cabinet meetings with his boss Eric Pickles.  This can only mean one thing: that housing as an issue is not seen as important any more.  We have to hope that once the pressing economic issues have been tackled, that giving people a roof over their heads will once again come to the fore.

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