If Labour get in to power, it’ll be the Treasury that decides whether the Lyons Review will make a difference

Steve Douglas

Sir Michael Lyons has now completed his Labour party sponsored housing commission. He spent nine months painstakingly investigating how the housing market works, talking to the sector’s movers and shakers, both private and public. Take a look at the list of special thanks, submissions, meetings and roundtables and you can see that he took the brief extremely seriously.

It’s a comprehensive analysis and with its starting point Kate Barker’s seminal report of 2004, it feels like that episode of Dallas when Bobby Ewing emerges from the shower and a whole previous series is erased from the memory as a bad dream.

We have targets again; a national database of statistical information; the reinvigoration of modular construction; a nod to the importance of design; the key role of local planning delivery and the need to have more housing providers, including SMEs, housing associations and local authorities. And it has an ambition to it and a sense of energy. Reminds me of John Prescott’s Sustainable Communities Plan of the early noughties.

The Lyons review has a recognition that we need more homes of all types, and that it will cost to get these – but no detail of how the economics of delivery will work

But I wonder whether behind that energy I detect the dead hand of those who would hold the purse strings.

I wrote a blog for this magazine in January 2014 and I called for strategy that had three elements: affordability; more homes; and a market shaper to tackle our dysfunctional market.

What I see in the Lyons review is a recognition that we need more homes of all types, and that it will cost to get these – but no detail of how the economics of delivery will work. I see an ambition to deliver 200,000 new homes from 2020 onwards. This is a massive increase and should be acknowledged as such, but most analysts say we actually need 220,000 plus to meet the shortfall. I see a retasking of the institution for delivery, the Homes and Communities Agency, but if you are genuinely going to get it to do the thing it was originally set up to do, then retaining the dual function of investment and regulation doesn’t help it. Neither does a plethora of new local institutions that confuse its role as local authorities’ principal delivery partner.

I previously spoke of Investing in local authorities and housing association programmes through revolving fund guarantees that could see a self- sustaining programme within a generation. I see a tentative dip into the future funding for social housing programmes but I don’t see a longer term commitment to investment. The shadow treasury bods have had their say here.

So will it make a difference? Only those who control the money will decide.

Steve Douglas is a partner at Altair