30,000 new homes? We’ve heard it all before

John Phillips

April 1, 2019

John Phillips, operations director, Just Mortgages and Spicerhaart

In the Spring statement the Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced that, through the Affordable Homes Guarantee Scheme, the government will commit up to £3bn of borrowing by housing associations in England to support delivery of around 30,000 affordable homes.

He also announced funding to unlock homes at sites in Old Oak Common in London, the Oxford-Cambridge Arc and Cheshire, as well as funding for the Borderlands area.

But haven’t we heard this all before? Pledges are all very well, and certainly a crowd pleaser, but what about all the pledges that have been made and never kept?

For example, in 2016 the government allocated £1.2bn to the ‘starter homes’ programme, which aimed to build 200,000 properties exclusively for first-time buyers at a 20% discount on their market value.

A year later the government admitted the target of 200,000 was too ambitious, and the then housing minister Gavin Barwell shirked responsibility for the plans by saying that the number delivered would depend on what local authorities consider most appropriate in their own areas.

And the current housing minister Kit Malthouse admitted that, not only has the government not hit the 200,000 target, but it hasn’t even started! When asked how many starter homes had been built since 2016, Malthouse said: “At the moment, none”.

Although I do not necessarily share the view that building more homes is the answer to the housing crisis, building more homes – particularly affordable ones and social housing – will go a long way towards easing it.

But it has to be a proper commitment. We need the government to think about whether it does actually want to build more homes, or just wants to say it will, just because it makes a good sound bite, and helps win votes.

Sorting Britain’s housing crisis is not a quick fix. It is broken on so many levels that it needs a long term, strategic solution, not an empty promise to build ‘x’ number of homes here or there whenever there is an election coming up.

Without enough affordable homes on the market, first-time buyers are not able to make that first step onto the housing ladder, and without them, the whole market screeches to a halt. And without enough social housing, we have a severe issue of affordability when it comes to rental properties.

It seems the government is good at saying all the right things, but no so good at seeing them through. And with Brexit currently taking up all the government’s time and energy, it seems unlikely that housing issues are going to be high up in the list of priorities any time soon.

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