But there are big
challenges ahead, from tighter mortgage lending to reduced housing delivery as
a result of coronavirus. For the feel-good factor to return, government action
is required. Berkeley Group CEO Rob Perrins recommended cutting stamp duty,
scrapping the Community Infrastructure Levy and extending Help to Buy. He’s already
got some of what he wanted: a nine-month stamp duty cut that will stimulate
transaction levels and in turn boost housebuilding. Meanwhile, the industry is
reportedly in talks with the government to extend the equity loan scheme, which
has had both its supporters and detractors.
accused Help to Buy of pushing up house prices, inflating housebuilders’ profits
and risking putting the taxpayer in negative equity if there is a housing
crash. But house price inflation is more attributable to planning restrictions
that have resulted in decades of structural undersupply, a problem compounded
by years of rock-bottom interest rates and quantitative easing, which have
hiked asset prices.
Help to Buy undoubtedly supported housebuilding after the financial crisis by
stimulating demand among those who wanted to get onto the housing ladder. It
helps people achieve homeownership, which remains the aspiration of most
Britons, including many renters. So the government is right to revive the
Starter Homes initiative: properties for first-time buyers that come with a
perpetual discount. That is not to say Help to Buy is perfect. There is
evidence it has pushed up house prices and aided first-time buyers who didn’t
need help. The pandemic has also made clear the need for better-quality homes
that promote wellbeing and support modern lifestyles, so a renewed Help to Buy
scheme must be used to drive higher-quality developments.
the housing market back to life, the government must do more than just
subsidise home ownership. We need more supply across the board. Planning
reforms like those announced in Boris’s “build, build, build” speech, such as
making it is easier to replace commercial buildings with housing, will speed up
delivery and de-risk development. Fewer planning barriers will help level the
playing field for the SME developers.
unless planning departments are properly funded there is little point in reforming
the planning system, as councils won’t have the resources to process
applications speedily and enforce regulations. And while the government is
right to prioritise homeownership, a broader mix of housing types and tenures
is needed to reflect the new world we are living in.
state funding is needed to build more affordable and social housing. A
shortfall of homes has led to long waiting lists that put people at risk of
homelessness or living in accommodation that is inadequate. While many still
aspire to own, more people are renting privately and for longer – a trend
unlikely to be reversed by Covid-19. Encouraging institutions to invest in the
emerging build-to-rent sector will be crucial to meeting this growing housing
Buy helped rescue housebuilding after the financial crash and has helped
thousands reach the dream of owning their own home. But extending the programme
without reform and not as part of a wider package to boost supply will not get
Britain back to building again at the levels the government wants.
Clifford is co-founder of Great Marlborough Estates