Following the Conservative Party Conference, I was invited onto BBC Breakfast to give my thoughts about the Prime Minister’s plans to repair ‘the broken housing market’.
I joined business journalist Steph McGovern at the Build Show, part of UK Construction Week at the NEC in Birmingham.
Theresa May made several housing announcements in her speech, and the good news is that this time there will be help for people across the spectrum; first-time buyers, renters and those needing social housing.
The big surprise was the PM’s use of the words “council housing”, a term which has been virtually unused for the past 20 years. For a long time we’ve had to call them “affordable housing” while actually they haven’t been very affordable at all. Hopefully this will mean more homes for everybody, and a boost for the social housing sector which is where the housing crisis is most acute.
£2 billion injection into social housing
We need to understand there are three ways of building homes and putting roofs over people’s heads:
The private sector
Not for profit housing associations
Build more council houses
The government must decide who is going to supply what housing in which areas, with those three sectors working together to make sure they deliver the housing that individual communities need.
James Prestwich, head of policy at the National Housing Federation, and who appeared on the programme with me, acknowledged the contribution of housing associations.
He said: “We haven’t been building enough homes. By the government’s own estimation we need to build between 225,000 and 275,000 homes a year and we’re not there yet. Housing associations are contributing very heavily to building new homes – they built 40000 homes last year and as a sector have an ambition to deliver 120,000 homes – but we need to do more and that’s why the £2bn the government announced is so welcome.”
An injection of £2bm sounds like a huge amount and is of course welcomed, but it translates to a pledge to build 5,000 social homes a year for the next five years. When you have more than a million people on council house waiting lists, 25,000 homes in five years is simply not enough.
£10 billion investment in Help to Buy
Further investment in Help to Buy is great news as it helps a lot of first-time buyers – although other people can also access the scheme – and it also encourages house-building.
This is good news because I don’t think people realise just how much money building houses puts back into the economy – at a local level. It’s not just the jobs created as a development is built but the money spent by the occupants on products to make their new house a home and ongoing on goods and services in the local community.
Changes to private rented sector
Mrs May also announced more regulation of the private rented sector, with the introduction of a ‘housing court’ to handle disputes between tenants and landlords faster and more efficiently. Other good news came with the announcements that landlords will be required to join a redress scheme and letting agents will be regulated at last.
There’s greater support for Build to Rent, too, which is good news as it provides brand new properties for tenants, raising standards in the private rented sector.
While at the Build Show, BBC reporter Steph McGovern looked at modular homes – which are created off-site either as a whole or a ‘flat pack’.
Let’s get building
We need homes in every sector. In some areas it’s quite easy to afford a property if you’re a first-time buyer, or to rent a good property privately, or indeed to get a council home… but in other areas you can’t get any of those.
We need to be building good quality new homes for people at every stage of their life: social homes, brand new properties for rent, and homes for first-time buyers that are affordable in the area they live. We have to do this across the spectrum because where there is a shortage of stock, it’s a shortage of all of those types of home.
If we can put a roof over people’s heads, you take away a lot of stress from people’s lives.