Was Cameron really the worst PM for housebuilding?

A fresh interpretation of some dismal figures paint Cameron in a more flattering light. August 2, 2016 / Isla MacFarlane
Was Cameron really the worst PM for housebuilding?

They say numbers don’t lie, but neither do they tell the whole truth. When statistics which indicated David Cameron held the worst housebuilding record of any Prime Minister since 1923 fell into the hands of Labour MP John Healey, headlines trumpeted Cameron’s dismal failure to increase the housing stock.

An average of 123,560 new homes a year were completed under David Cameron’s leadership, according to figures released by the House of Commons Library. Technically, this is the lowest average since Stanley Baldwin in 1923.

Healey described Cameron’s “six years of failure” on housing with relish. “With the Conservative failure on housing now fully expose, a Labour alternative is more important than ever,” he said.

However, a new report argues that housing completions are a trend indicator rather than a complete picture of new housing supply. The Housing & Finance Institute says housing supply and demand comprises a number of elements – not just housebuilding but also net housing supply, how property is used and ensuring fair access and affordability.

For example, in 2007/08 the UK had a net housing supply of over 200,000 a year, however there was also the highest number of empty homes. The number of empty homes has fallen by 120,000 and is now the lowest on record.

According to net housing supply, in 2014/15 an additional 174,000 homes were delivered in England alone. Taking into account new builds in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, it may be that close to 200,000 additional homes were delivered in the UK last year.

“It is true we have some serious housing challenges, but it is also a fact we have made some extraordinary steps forward since David Cameron and George Osborne took control of the tiller in 2010,” said Natalie Elphicke, chief executive of The Housing & Finance Institute.

“As Chancellor, Osborne put housing at the heart of Britain’s recovery and growth strategy, committing over £38 billion of public money into the sector; a scale of public finance housing support that has not seen since the post war era.”

The HFI added that Cameron’s Help to Buy programme ensured that builders had the confidence to continue to build new homes, knowing that the homes were within the reach of buyers.

“Britain has more fuel in its housing tank than at any recent time,” said Elphicke. “Planning permissions are at an eight-year high with over 475,000 in stock at the beginning of 2016. Over 200,000 additional homes have been added to the council tax base in the year to March 2016. There are fewer empty homes than at any time since records began.”

To keep Britain building, the HFI says that Phillip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, will need to champion the development of construction and other skills academies, encourage off-site manufacturing, re-invigorate estate regeneration and nurture the return of smaller builders.

“To counter the short-term Brexit impact, the new government will need to accelerate the pace of change for these critical areas,” said Elphicke.


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