Tag Archives: budget

A vision for homes?


Just a few weeks ago Theresa May dedicated what remains of her premiership to fixing the housing problem. A bold claim and one which she almost immediately passed to besieged Phillip Hammond to deliver in his Budget today. A housing solution?

And Spreadsheet Phil has come up with an interesting package of measures, but is there any real substance here?

The answer is not really. The Chancellor has announced a few new measures, repackaged a few older measures and carefully sought to break down the dominance of the big house builders but there is no grand plan – and of course the Green Belt will remain sacrosanct.

One eye catching measure was a commitment to use New Town Development Corporations to deliver five “locally agreed” new towns in areas of “demand pressure”. These will be delivered through public private partnership to attract international investment. There appeared to be a loose link between the New Town measures and the Infrastructure Commissions report into the brain belt. The Commissions vision of 1m homes in the area by 2050 and the attendant road and rail infrastructure was whole heartedly “backed” but any form of funding to support the warm words was absent.

Another initiative is to rebrand the HCA to become Homes England with a remit to deliver new homes where they are needed, complete with new CPO powers. This had been trailed in the White Paper in February but has now been given new impetus. A lot may depend on who heads the new agency and their drive to deliver change.

Hammond’s commitment to get Britain building is to be backed by £44bn of funds for capital investment, loans and guarantees – most of which has already been announced in one form or another. But, disappointingly, the date to reach the delivery target of 300,000 new homes a year has been pushed out to the mid-2020s.

To help reach those rates of delivery there will be new money to support SME house builders and there will be an urgent review of the gap between granted permissions and actual building rates. The review will be chaired by Oliver Letwin and will be expected to report back in time for the Spring statement next year.  Both of these measures are expected to put pressure on the bigger house builders.

Infrastructure also got a boost with the doubling of the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF), which so many authorities are depending on to unlock significant proportions of their local plans. For the bigger cities, £400m, a relative drop in the ocean, was given to estate regeneration while £1.1bn was given to unlocking strategic sites and urban regeneration schemes.

For councils “in high demand areas” the Housing Revenue Account borrowing limits are to be relaxed. The measure is in line with a DCLG report from April (Capacity in the Home Building Industry) to allow councils to make a more significant contribution to house building in their areas. Or put another way, this can be seen as the Government seeking another means to breaking the dominance of the biggest house builders.

While the industry may be looking at the measures and thinking “where are the big ideas we were promised”, many of the most interesting measures have been saved for the demand side. The Tories have finally realised that first time buyers are also voters and that currently, Corbyn has a strangle hold on them.

For properties of £300,000 or less, stamp duty for first time buyers will be wiped out forever (or at least until a different government comes to office). For those in London or other high value areas, there will be no stamp duty on the first £300,000 of properties worth up to £500,000.

So does this all add up to a whole hill of beans (to borrow a phrase)? Not really. More reheated announcements and re-branded funding pots. A bit of new cash and an eye-catching reduction in stamp duty for politically important voters. Perhaps the most deflating part of this set of bold initiatives is the pushing out of the 300,000 homes a year target to the mid-2020s. Not so bold after all then….

Now we just have to wait for the promised statement from Sajid Javid to find out what the Chancellor really meant (queue frantic work behind the scenes by civil servants).

Teetering on the brink


Today’s Budget has been billed as make or break for the Chancellor, and no one can deny that he is in a difficult spot. He’s become the target of the more avid Brexiteers for sounding a note of caution and amongst the public for failing to put austerity aside. Here is our Budget analysis!

The politics has been fierce with ministers, civic servants and others using national platforms to beg for more investment, while behind the scenes there has been bitter infighting with re-writes still being finalised last night. So, what did we get? Well a surprisingly amusing speech at least, with jokes (which were actually funny) at the expense of Gove, himself and Labour.

As is usual we started off with the “econonicky stuff”. No Chancellor has been out there saying that the economy is going in the wrong direction and this one was no different. A sunny picture of economic growth and jobs growth was painted, if in somewhat dull colours as the growth rates were reduced to less than 2% until 2020 – something Corbyn was quick to attack.

More positively national debt is expected to peak this year before falling in the coming few years until it hits around 80% of GDP with borrowing hovering around 1% per year in the mid-2020s. As has been pointed out overall debt is more than 30% higher than it was when the UK was forced to go to the IMF to ask for emergency funds in the 1970s.

So what of the future? The Chancellor laid out a rosy vision of a prosperous, outward looking, free trade Britain which is investing in infrastructure for the future with road building, rail projects. Alongside the harder stuff a £6bn increase in the National Productivity Investment fund to £31bn and investment in driverless cars and start-up businesses were given a nod.  The R&D tax credit will rise to 12% and a total of £500m is being invested in Artificial Intelligence, full fibre broadband and 5G technology, while the British Business Bank will be given seed funding of £2.5bn.

The Budget was also used to push the social agenda. Electric vehicles were promoted over diesel cars, with white van men and women carefully protected (Phil is not one to make the same mistake twice). Single use plastic items – think take away Nespresso pods / coffee cups – will be subject to an investigation into future tax. This is particularly pertinent on a day when it has been revealed that Defra staff have used more than three million takeaway cups over the last three years…

Maths in schools was singled out for particular attention. New money was announced to attract maths teachers and to encourage schools to become maths academies. Also on the cards is more money for IT and retraining the existing workforce although the sums are relatively small.

For the regions, the Chancellor (re)announced agreements for Local Industrial Strategies in Manchester and the West Midlands. There may also be a future City deal for Belfast and other towns and cities. Billions more for Scotland, Wales and £650m for Northern Ireland (on top of the £1bn already announced) also got headlines. For London a pilot scheme to retain 100% of business rates for next year was announced and could quickly be rolled out to other cities and areas.

Making work pay remains a continuing theme, with the rate of the minimum wage rising in April 2018 in line with recommendations (to £7.83 per hour) while there will be no backing down from Universal Credit, but in a move to assuage back benchers on both sides, there will be some reforms to ease the transition period for those suffering delayed payments.

The NHS will be given more support with £10bn capital investment over the course of this Parliament, with an additional £2.8bn for operational resources. With concerns the extra resource would be swallowed up by any pay increases, Hammond deftly promised to cover any pay increases with further additional funds. The additional money to the NHS falls short of the services demands but is a significant nod in their direction on a day when other branches of government were noticeably absent.

To shoot Labour’s fox, there was a necessary piece on clamping down on tax avoidance by companies and individuals. Hammond moved to tax internal company royalties within multinationals which move money off shore. The measures are admittedly small by the Chancellor’s own admission but are symbolically significant. Meanwhile there were some technical changes to reduce costs for small businesses by changing inflation measures from RPI to CPI starting from April 2018.

Another popular measure to raise funds and bring more properties into use is a commitment to allow councils to charge a 100% premium on council tax for empty properties. This is a politically popular move and could bring a few more properties in central locations back into use for local people – as long as councils can prove that properties are not occupied.

The Chancellor kept his best material for the housing section which we have covered here. After all that, it’s time for a drink – and thanks to the Chancellor for freezing the rates on booze (except for white cider!)

He’s probably done enough to keep his position for now. So cheers Phil.


Crispin Blunt MP tightens Greenbelt on Government

Crispin Blunt and some London based colleagues have taken up the cudgels in the green belt debate. Mr Blunt, MP for Reigate, formed the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for London’s green belt with the intention of pressuring the Government to do more to protect green belt, build on brownfield land and increase the speed that developers are building out.

In a letter from Mr Blunt to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, the group claim the new housing need assessment put forward by Government in September imposes “excessive housing targets” in areas where local authorities will have little choice but to build on green belt or AONB land.

The secretariat for the APPG will be provided by the London Green Belt Council, a group chaired by Richard Knox-Johnston, who is also the vice-chairman of CPRE Kent. CPRE and the London Green Belt Council have always worked intimately with each other, and jointly published a paper last year calling for a moratorium on development in the green belt.

Given the new group will have close involvement from the CPRE, it’s perhaps no surprise they have already echoed CPRE’s calls on Government to prioritise development on brownfield land rather than release more land for homes in expensive areas of the country to ease the housing crisis.

The group has also called for councils to be given the power to reject development proposals which do not meet local affordable housing requirements, even if they don’t have a Local Plan or an establish five year housing supply. However, given the National Planning Policy Framework’s presumption in favour of sustainable development, and the number of rulings which have been determined on this basis in recent years, it’s unlikely Government will budge on this when the NPPF is updated.

Announcing the launch of the APPG, Crispin Blunt said:

“I am delighted we have formed the APPG for London’s Green Belt. With the number of Green Belt sites around London under threat from development more than doubling over the past year, we urgently need to review our approach to housing policy across the region. The group will inform the debate and develop recommendations for Green Belt-friendly planning policy.”

The group consists of:

  • Crispin Blunt MP, Co-Chair, (Conservative, Reigate)
  • Lord Rogers of Riverside CH, Co-Chair, (Labour)
  • Gareth Thomas MP, Vice Chair, (Labour and Co-op, Harrow)
  • Adam Holloway MP, (Conservative, Gravesham)
  • Rt Hon Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Conservative, Chesham and Amersham)
  • Baroness Jones of Moulsecomb (Green)

The group is well versed in green belt issues and brings considerable influence to bear within Westminster, with Lord Rogers of Riverside CH having served as Chief Advisor on Architecture and Urbanism to Boris Johnston and Ken Livingston and Gareth Thomas MP the current President of the London green belt Council.

Given Crispin Blunt MPs assertion that failures in the planning system have  placed “unreasonable pressures on local authorities to provide new homes whilst developers have ‘land banked’ sites”, we can expect the APPG to steer Government to include measures on speeding up  build-out on sites which have already received planning permission, in upcoming planning changes.

No group meetings have been arranged yet, but keeping watching this space.

Hammond to announce Green Belt land release in first Autumn budget?


The Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, is understood to be pushing for major planning reforms which would free up some Green Belt land for housing. While hoping for that might be unrealistic we might expect some bold news.

Hammond is under pressure to perform at the inaugural Autumn statement, due on Wednesday 22 November. He has been arguing to the Cabinet for several months that some countryside should be reclassified as part of a wider package that could facilitate borrowing to fund house-building. As MP for a Green Belt constituency, it’s certainly a bold idea.

The proposed measures have been backed by backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. However, building on Green Belt land is still seen as politically toxic and many Conservative councillors were elected on manifestos which pledged to resist Green Belt development. Theresa May has recognised the political implications of such a radical move and has insisted the Green Belt will be kept firmly off the agenda on budget day.

So it looks like Hammond won’t be able to get his way, even if the chronic shortage of housing across the country inevitably means some areas of land will need to be released from the Green Belt. The Chancellor will therefore have to come up with some alternative vote-winning ideas which could help the Conservatives demonstrate that they are in touch with the younger generation.

A few policies have already been floated, such as introducing new legislation that would allow councils to borrow to kick-start housebuilding. This was suggested by Sajid Javid a few weeks ago in a move which made him look like he was lobbying the Chancellor live on national television. Axing stamp duty for first-time buyers has also been mentioned, as has reducing tax relief on older workers to fund a subsidy for workers in their twenties and thirties. We’ve also seen calls from some think tanks proposing a significant property tax on second homes to pay for more affordable build and extending central government borrowing to provide necessary infrastructure.

With little funding to play with the Chancellor does not have a lot of room to manoeuvre financially, as well as having to walk a political tightrope. Whatever is announced on 22 November, all eyes will be on Hammond. We will be monitoring the budget closely to see which way the Chancellor moves.