Fools rush in where angels fear to tread – this is perhaps the phrase that best describes the government’s current approach to housing policy.
That said, most of the latest series of U-turns from Ruth Kelly’s department are arguably righting the wrongs of the overly ambitious Prescott regime, and are dancing to the tune of the private sector. The problem is, coming as they do so thick and fast, these U-turns are beginning to make DCLG towers look rather wobbly.
There’s the Northern Way being scaled back, not to mention the struggle to deliver targets on affordable housing (page 23) – although Ken Livingstone’s new powers should help on that one. And then there’s the planning gain supplement, which looks like it is quietly being dropped.
And now we have the change of heart on the home information packs, which won’t require the homeowner to carry out a condition survey after all. There’s quite a bit of huffing and puffing from those that signed up to the training only to find their services won’t be needed. But the government has done the right thing changing its mind. There simply weren’t enough people trained up and it could all have ended in chaos. However, this does leave doubts over the whole issue of energy performance, which hasn’t been dropped from the packs. That’s a good thing; but who will police it, and how? Answers are needed fast on that one – the last thing we need is another U-turn ...
Success smells sweet
While the government nurses its housing woes, housebuilding itself has never looked more glamorous, thanks to the £1bn catfight for McCarthy & Stone. The sudden interest in the retirement homes specialist has lit up the sector. And though Permira and Barclays look to be in pole position with their £1bn joint-venture offer, a bidding war looks likely with property tycoons the Reuben brothers and Vincent Tchenguiz considering whether to trump it.
The deal demonstrates the benefits of niche companies – a point reinforced in this week’s top 150 league tables, which show that the margins of many smaller firms outflanking those of the general contractors (see pages 20-21 and free supplement). But the really exciting aspect of this deal is the injection of venture capitalists – there’s already speculation Wilson Bowden is on the same radar. The City has traditionally turned up its nose at housebuilding – but now the race is on for McCarthy & Stone, expect others to follow.
Denise Chevin, editor