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One year on from the housing white paper - what’s changed?
It’s just a little over a year since the government published the universally welcomed housing white paper.
The authors of the white paper certainly aimed to make an impact with their ambitious pledge to “fix our broken housing market” and with Theresa May vowing to take “personal charge” of housing who could doubt that finally there was going to be clear solutions to the greatest housing challenge this country has experienced, since the end of World War II.
The industry was bolstered with the White Paper’s wide ranging plans to boost the supply of new homes in England including opening up the market to smaller players, driving and promoting initiatives such as modular construction and most importantly, creating a planning framework that assists increased and quicker levels of development.
So, one year on, how far are we really with fixing the housing market?
We can all agree that things didn’t get off to a great start as Gavin Barwell, former housing minister and chief architect of the reforms, lost his seat in the snap May election. Step forward Alok Sharma whose time in the role was brief as the cabinet reshuffle saw Dominic Raab appointed as the third housing minister since the white paper.
However, although constant change could only be a distraction from the reforms planned, there has been some progress.
Housing reforms were given more of a voice and hopefully even greater priority as the cabinet reshuffle in January saw housing elevated to become a cabinet position with Sajid Javid becoming Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Other positive steps throughout the year have included the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 aimed at clarify bottom-up local planning processes, compulsory purchase and local development documents to enable a speedier and more effective planning process. The Government also offered a further boost to the Help to Buy scheme with another £10billion and local housing projects saw an investment of £866m.
Estate agents Countrywide released worrying figures that showed millennials paid out £30 billion in rent last year, compared to £9.7 billion in 2007, with many paying half their salary renting a home. Indeed, home ownership for those aged between 25 and 34 has dropped from 59 per cent to 38 per cent over the last 15 years, as this group increasingly struggle to get on the property ladder because of soaring rents and deposits, and a sharp drop in the number of houses being built.
The Government has offered help by abolishing stamp duty for first time buyers and the Autumn budget saw the government pledge £44 billion to build 300,000 new homes a year to tackle the housing crisis in general and in particular the problem facing young people.
The Government also pledged to speed up the process of building where planning permission has been granted and help support smaller housing developers. It will also launch an inquiry, with the report to be delivered in the Spring, to see if large housing developers are hoarding land and waiting for the value of it to rise instead of building on it straight away.
The planning system is still a major course for concern for all. Many continue to feel there is little if any progress, with most of the recommendations in the White Paper still not close to implementation.
A recent letter from Steve Quartermain, the Government's chief planner, sent to developers and lobby groups has said that ministers intend to publish a draft revised version of the National Planning Policy Framework, the policy document that outlines what can be built where, by the end of March, with a final version published in the summer, 18 months after the Government's housing white paper.
Steve Morgan, chairman of housebuilder Redrow has said: "We would like the Government to take action quicker on planning in particular." He added that getting consent to build homes on sites was often a lengthy and difficult process. Others have suggested that the constant tweaks made to the system make it harder to build.
So, one year on from its publication it could be said that there has been modest progress in certain areas of the white paper and whilst yes this can be seen as commendable, there is no doubt that there will be ongoing frustration if progress and action isn’t forecoming soon.