With a general election fast approaching and the Conservative party languishing in the polls, it was almost inevitable that the government would turn to housing in a bid to win fresh support from voters.
Ever since Margaret Thatcher declared her belief in a ‘property-owning democracy’ and introduced Right to Buy in 1980, the UK has been a nation obsessed with the idea of homeownership, and Rishi Sunak knows it.
His housing secretary, Michael Gove, yesterday unveiled fresh plans to help tens of thousands of people onto the property ladder by introducing new housebuilding measures to boost the supply of much-needed new homes. This includes plans to create several new investment zones that would focus new housing in urban areas, the first of which will be a major expansion of Cambridge.
But what do those working in the property industry think of the proposals?
Nathan Emerson, CEO of Propertymark, commented: “The UK government’s commitment to building more homes is disappointing. In order to provide the homes the country needs, plans need to be more ambitious and Government must go faster and further to achieve this.
“Avoiding a fragmented approach is key, as well as having housing targets that are linked to tenure to meet the demand in different areas across the country. Housing reforms must also reflect societal change, help tackle the climate emergency, involve the tax system, meet the needs of older people and ultimately provide more affordable options, whilst protecting the green belt.
“Changes to the private rented sector in England have been long awaited and it is positive to hear that the UK Government is looking to ensure that good landlords and agents are supported in these proposals.
“The private rented sector is crucial to a well-functioning housing market so a whole-scale long-term plan involving tax reform and clarity on energy efficiency targets is needed to address the imbalance in high demand and low housing supply and incentivise investment for property agents and their landlords.
“It is encouraging to see that further leasehold law changes are on the cards as it’s imperative that the reforms reduce costs for consumers and create a level playing field with those who already own a leasehold property. Furthermore, we welcome the proposals for a new design code to improve the quality of new homes and the inclusion of new support to help first-time buyers onto the property ladder.
“The announcements from the Secretary of State are a step in the right direction, but we need action now across all regions to provide homes that the country needs.”
Alex Michelin, co-founder of Valouran and Finchatton, said: “Without question, the main challenge facing the residential sector today is planning. Central government have cut funding to planning departments so much over the past decade that they are completely understaffed and without the necessary equipment or technology to effectively manage the number of planning applications they receive. It has reached a critical point. A recent report confirmed that only 19% of planning allocations submitted are being processed in the statutory agreed timeframe. It can take a year for a very straightforward application to be heard and this is strangling the UK economy and creating a massive housing shortage. Something needs to be done urgently.
Michael Gove’s approach to relax planning rules in an effort to create more homes in “the hearts of our cities” will unblock a multitude of opportunities for developers to build much-needed housing. The changes will allow developers such as Valouran to focus on delivering high-quality, sustainable and future-proofed buildings. Streamlined regulations will enable a focus on enhancing design standards and reducing environmental impacts. However, responsible urban planning must remain a priority to ensure harmony with existing communities and to preserve the city’s character.”
Mick Platt, director of the Residential Freehold Association, remarked: “Inner-city housing is a critical part of the puzzle when it comes to addressing the country’s housing crisis and delivering on our environmental targets, but the Government needs to think carefully about the challenges and opportunities associated with high-density housing.
“Managing large, complex apartment buildings is not straightforward and the Government’s leasehold reform agenda risks pushing this responsibility onto residents, many of whom do not want it. We need to maintain consumer choice in the market, ensuring that both leasehold and commonhold tenures are fit for purpose and properly regulated.
“Decarbonisation is also an important challenge when it comes to this form of housing and the Government should work with institutional investors and landlords on this agenda instead of trying to drive them out of the market.”
Colin Brown, head of planning & development at Carter Jonas, commented: “There is some encouragement in relation to suggestions of new lines of funding to help local authorities with their significant workload / backlogs.
“Development corporations may well have a place if the Government genuinely wishes to ramp up delivery, for example in Cambridge. Cambridge is however surrounded by a Green Belt so significant questions will remain as to how you capitalise on its ongoing potential without recognising that some green belt development will almost certainly be needed. How you leverage in new infrastructure is a further key question.
“What seems clear however is that national housing targets look set to be abandoned. The reference to urban areas and brownfield sites anticipates the fact that greenfield development in areas of greatest housing need do not really feature.
“While we would support use of brownfield land it is simply incorrect to suggest that the housing crisis can be met in this way. Greenfield and green belt land will both need to be considered.”
Oli Sherlock, director of insurance, Goodlord, said: “If we want to ease the pressure on the rental sector, we desperately need more homes to be built. However, we need targets and pledges to translate into bricks and mortar. We’ve neglected our housing market for far too long – now is the time for pragmatic action, not more talk.”
Paula Higgins, CEO of HomeOwners Alliance, commented: “We support action to build more homes, making use of inner-cities and brownfield sites to build more homes. While making it easier to convert empty retail premises into flats and houses is welcome in principle, these conversions are often of lower quality with poor ventilation. They certainly haven’t always been beautiful! Government must learn from its mistakes by creating a wild west of office to resi conversions. Developers must be required to meet all building and space standards; these developments must be properly inspected by a third party and buyers should receive a full structural warranty.
“We already warn our readers to confront the reality before buying such homes: very few conversions have private or shared outside space and some are located in very noisy and polluted streets, while others on business parks are sometimes miles from shops and schools. There is a risk these conversions are unsustainable and quickly become homes people don’t want to live in once the newness wears off. If the government wants to truly build homes in the places people want to live, they need a strategy for building in suburban and rural areas as well as cities.”
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