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Too Little Too Late? The Housing White Paper 2017

Monday 13 February 2017

The housing white paper was eventually published on 7 February after months of delay. It was first expected along with the Autumn Statement in November 2016, it was then delayed until December, pushed back to the beginning of January before finally being released last week.

Speculation had been building over the past few months as to what the white paper would hold and since its release, reactions have been mixed.

The Department for Communities and Local Government have now published their report, titled ‘Fixing our broken housing market’, setting out a broad range of reforms and four key areas of development to mend the UK’s failing property market.

Location, Location, Location

Councils in every part of the country will be required to produce a realistic housing plan which should be reviewed at least every five years. Local authorities are being encouraged to work with their neighbours in assessing a need for the right homes in the right places within the community, as and when they are required.

The government plans to free up public sector sites and make better use of brownfield land by encouraging building of higher-density homes near major transport hubs and areas of high housing demand.

Strong protection for the Green Belt will remain, with Green Belt boundaries only being amended in exceptional circumstances and where local authorities can demonstrate that they have fully examined all other reasonable options.

Naomi Heaton, CEO of London Central Portfolio, commented:

“With only 163,940 housing completions in England in 2015-16, the Government is a long way off the target of providing 1m new homes by 2020, promised by David Cameron. Not only do we have a housing crisis to meet right now, there is projected to be an additional 1.8m new households created by the end of this Parliament. Currently, the Government is not even standing still.”

Building Homes Faster

In order to speed up building, developers will be required to start building on land where planning permission has already been granted within two years, or the permission will lapse.

The government plans to support developers by tackling unnecessary delays in planning to speed up the rate of building. A 2.3bn Housing Infrastructure Fund will be used to target the provision of building in the right place at the right time and address skills shortages by growing the construction workforce.

Jeff Doble, Chief Executive of Dexters, one of London’s leading estate agents, said:

“This is a classic case of ‘Nanny knows best’, with the Government failing to understand the issues and being too quick to dismiss the views of the industry. Once again, this is too little too late - tinkering around the edges, rather than dealing with the causes for the slow rate of new build - the planning system, associated charges and stamp duty.”

Diversifying the Market

The Home Builders Fund has been set up to back small independent builders and increase the number of homes built in England.

Modern and innovative methods of construction which boost productivity are being encouraged. Smaller, off-site built homes can provide a responsive approach. Being built to a good standard, they are energy efficient and will reduce bills for home owners.

With the number of homes registered by small builders down from 44,000 in 2007 to 18,000 in 2015, the Government plans to help this sector grow and develop. 

Managing Director for small house builder Generator Group, Paul Isaacs, commented:

“There is very little chance of hitting the target of delivering one million new homes by 2020 equating to 300,000 per annum, unless there are radical changes to the planning system that is currently not fit for purpose. More importance needs to be given to small house builders to help speed up the delivery of these housing numbers.”

Helping People Now

Upfront fees paid to letting agents will be banned "as soon as parliamentary time allows" to make renting fairer for tenants.

Whilst the government have promised to continue to support people through the Help to Buy and Starter Homes schemes, we will see a shortage of homes for older people and last-time movers to release more family homes for younger buyers.

Anchor is England’s largest not-for-profit provider of housing and care for older people. Anchor’s Chief Executive, Jane Ashcroft CBE, described the white paper as "utterly disappointing"

NAEA MD, Mark Hayward, said: 

"Only 32,000 affordable homes were built in 2016, and this is totally unacceptable, especially given the number of homes we really need. We’ve had years of empty promises now and this has exacerbated the problem resulting in the price of properties being out of reach for so many.

“The announcement that the Government plans to diversify the market by opening it up to smaller builders who embrace innovative and efficient methods is great and could go some way in helping deliver a vast number of homes quickly. However, it’s vital the Government considers the cost of building modular homes and understands these could remain unaffordable and unsuitable for first time buyers.

“The Government’s plans to help older people move at the right time and in the right way to free up homes for other buyers is an important issue and something we believe would make a big difference. Around two fifths of homes in the UK are owned by those aged over 65, who have no desire to move as they do not want to sustain the costs or stress involved with moving. They are considered “bedroom blockers” and are the main reason why there are a large number of homes with two or three spare bedrooms. We look forward to working with the Government on how it aims to use the existing housing stock in a more efficient way.”