Housing Minister’s first speech fails to impress

September 18, 2017 / Isla MacFarlane
Housing Minister’s first speech fails to impress

Speaking at Resi 2017, Housing Minister Alok Sharma joked that, as the fifth planning minister in five years he is the latest incarnation – a bit like Doctor Who.

Sadly, without the aid of sonic screw driver or time machine, the minister will have to be a bit more imaginative when it comes to solving the housing crisis. Sadly, his speech was found wanting of any real solutions.

Sharma announced that the Secretary of State will set out plans to consult on proposals to agree on a clear, open and transparent approach to assessing local housing need. The will be read alongside the other White Paper proposals; the combined responses will be published early next year, alongside the draft new National Planning Policy Framework.

While this news has been generally welcomed by the industry, others are concerned it could simply delay any meaningful changes.

“Whilst Mr Sharma’s announcement this morning of another housing consultation is welcomed, I am concerned that this is just another delaying tactic and am sceptical as to whether he will enforce any change following the publishing of the White Paper six months ago,” said Simon Gerrard, past president of the NAEA propertymark and MD of Martyn Gerrard.

“Our government and opposition have become accomplished in delivering papers and speeches on how to fix the housing market, but continue to fall short in delivering effective policy,” he added.

The build to rent sector also featured heavily in the speech. “We have put the government balance sheet on the line by supporting build to rent schemes through our £3.5 billion PRS guarantee scheme,” Sharma said. “It is going from strength to strength and approvals have already topped £1 billion.”

Sharma also emphasised that international and UK investors were being actively encouraged to enter the market and was keen to quash any concerns. “I know some of you have concerns that rent controls may destroy future markets,” he said. “Let me be absolutely clear, under this Government rent controls are not going to happen.”

However, the housing minister did spare the audience any specifics on how the government would quickly develop a build to rent market and ensure it has the investment it needs.

“The pledge to increase the number and quality of homes for the PRS is a good soundbite, but where are the details? Where is the meat on the bones?” asked Gerrard. “There are currently no incentives in the planning process that benefit developers and those hoping to succeed in the private rented sector, and recent policies have done nothing to increase supply; instead they hamper home-building, increase rents and prevent people from moving onto or up the ladder.”

Sharma also touched on the future of the Help to Buy Equity Loan scheme, but refused to confirm whether or not the scheme would be continued past 2021.

“As we said in the Housing White Paper, the government has committed £8.6 billion for the scheme to 2021, ensuring it continues to support homebuyers and stimulate housing supply,” he said. “We also recognise the need to create certainty for prospective home owners and developers beyond 2021 and so we are committed to working with the sector to consider the future of the scheme.”

While Sharma promised he would not rest until the promised reforms in the Housing White Paper became reality, the paper itself has been heavily criticised for naming problems – such as dated methods of construction and the skills crisis – without offering meaningful solutions.

“There are two policies I think could be transformative that Mr Sharma failed to address,” said Gerrard. “Firstly, a time restricted Capital Gains Tax Moratorium to encourage landowners to sell parcels of land will enable much more needed new housing to be built than putting pressure on local authorities to release land.

“Secondly, a stamp duty rethink that would maintain income to the treasury but would also encourage more people to move by making it payable by those selling, not buying. This would enable both first time buyers and those aspiring to move up the ladder. Both government and industry must work together to initiate reform in a radical way or the rhetoric is nothing more than soundbites, which the public are quickly becoming bored with.”

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