The housing sector once again finds itself frustrated at the loss of continuity and uncertainty over the future direction of housing policy
There is a new parlour game called "Can you name the last 10 Housing Ministers. In order."
Alok Sharma, the most recent Minister to depart, had spent the better part of 9 months travelling up and down the country listening to the words and thoughts of tenants on the future shape of the social housing sector, in the wake of the Grenfell fire tragedy. His thoughts on what he heard and saw will remain his own private reflections. It is the nature of our ministerial system, that new Ministers get a pretty free run at their policy brief.
So the housing sector finds itself frustrated at the loss of continuity and uncertainty over the future direction of housing policy. This is despite housing now being highlighted explicitly as part of the Secretary of State’s portfolio in the newly named Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The sector is searching for clues on what the new Minister, Dominic Raab’s priorities will be.
However, the fundamental challenges remain the same.
Demand continues to far outstrip supply, housing starts in the UK decreased to 41,280 in the third quarter of 2017 from 42,480 in the second quarter of 2017. And the population is still set to grow by circa 210,000 per over the next 20 years. The new target of 300,000 homes per year announced as part of the November 2017 budget has Prime Ministerial endorsement and must be a priority.
We have a white paper that recognised that there weren’t sufficient numbers of contractors and housebuilders to ensure adequate competition to deliver the many needed homes. Planning still works against, rather than in favour of development. Brexit casts a cloud of uncertainty on economic prospects and therefore confidence in the housing market is less strong. The situation with the collapse of Carillion, will have compounded this anxiety.
The various Inquiries into the Grenfell tragedy are due to report in the summer, and are expected to have implications for both existing stock and the specification for new multi-storey homes and buildings. There is also a Green paper on the future of social housing, that was anticipated to fundamentally review the purpose of this form of housing.
As the new Housing Minister reviews his in-tray, and decides on the things that he wishes to focus on, the message from the housing sector is likely to be ‘please, Minister, just deliver on the many promises that have been made by your many predecessors to fix the broken housing market.
Steve Douglas is Co-Chief Executive at Altair, part of the Aquila Group of companies