THE BLOG

Voters Won't Thanks A New Government That Lets Housing Reform Fail

06/06/2017 13:55
POOL New / Reuters

Despite the brevity of this General Election campaign, neither of the major parties' respective campaigns have managed to keep voters focussed on their preferred policy issues. Instead, we have seen a bitter presidential-like campaign pitting leader against leader. Whatever your allegiance, it's hard to think of a more divisive and personal contest in recent British history.

But whatever the outcome on Friday morning, one issue that will remain regardless of the political whims of the election: the housing crisis. The need to build more houses across the country will be competing with a number of other high priority items on the returning or new Prime Minister's to-do list; but the momentum gained since Gavin Barwell, the most recent Housing Minister, took up his position last summer must not be lost.

As recently as four months ago, the government made the admission that the nation's housing market is broken. There is both political and public consensus that decades of well-intentioned policymaking have failed to stymie the housing crisis, and with it, the growing oligopolistic nature of the housing market.

We need housebuilders of all sizes to build more homes of every type, and we need them fast. The chronic undersupply of new homes has left people needing properties to rent and buy in every corner of the country, and that requires a long term plan to fix the failing system. Westminster, industry and the City need to get behind the pledges and the targets to make this happen. We need to create the right environment for small and medium-sized housebuilders to get building, up alongside the larger housebuilders who are already at capacity.

Yet, another election raises as many questions as it seeks to answer, especially for the property sector. With fourteen housing ministers in twenty years, should we expect to see Gavin Barwell moved to another role? What could that mean for the Housing White Paper under a new minister? Would a new government water down existing proposals or change them altogether?

The property market craves predictability. That's stuff in short supply of late. Brexit-fuelled uncertainty, dramatic tax changes and policy shake-ups have punctured momentum in the market. We may have recovered from the extended summer lull that took the air out of our market after the referendum vote last June, but the gains are tempered by the threat of more political and economic pain between now and our eventual exit from the EU.

For smaller housebuilders, this could set them on an even steeper uphill struggle than usual. Accessing the finance to get their projects off the ground relies on the confidence of the lenders and investors behind them and these SMEs have a lot more skin in the game than their larger counterparts. At the same time, hesitance to do business could lock up the supply of land, bottlenecking the availability of new sites, and ultimately slowing supply of new housing.

Dominating the election campaign has been talk of which party leader commands the country's confidence to successfully negotiate Brexit, deal with the horrors of terrorism, and handle the divisive issue of immigration. These are, without doubt, critical subjects deserving of attention. What has been missing, however, is one of the most pressing and important domestic issues: the fundamental need to ensure that we have enough homes for people to live in.

Restoring government-backed impetus for a healthy property sector won't just provide more affordable homes, but will help to get regional economies firing on all cylinders and contribute to the nation's economic growth. Whether it's May or Corbyn walking through the door to Number 10 on Friday, efforts to provide for those locked out of a decent home must also take centre stage.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS