December 2012 (Issue 55)
It has been interesting to note over the past 12 months how the Government’s attitude towards housing has shifted.
As George Osborne’s economic policies continue to flounder and Britain struggles to pull itself out of negative growth, there is - at last - the realisation in Coalition circles that building more homes may actually be a quick way to get the economy moving. Last year’s Housing Strategy laid the foundations and 2012 has seen the Government make regular announcements of increased investment in housebuilding backed by changes to planning policy that are designed to speed up the pace of development.
Over the next two years, the Government believes, the hopeless housebuilding figures of recent times will become a distant memory as thousands of sparkling new homes are built, the economy recovers and the housing crisis recedes. In reality this is unlikely to be the case but let’s not burst the Government’s housing bubble just yet. We should be grateful for small mercies and, supply wise, things are beginning to move in the right direction – albeit at a glacial pace.
Why then, are housing professionals so downbeat about the sector’s prospects for 2013? Where do I start?
While housebuilding in general may pick up, the relaxation of section 106 obligations and the fact that many councils are now taking a cavalier approach to imposing affordable housing targets, means the type of homes that are so essential to the easing of pressure at the bottom end of the market will prove limited at best. And don’t get me started on the building of homes for social rent.
But the biggest headache for housing providers has nothing to do with delivery. In fact, the provision of new homes is a welcome distraction to what lurks just around the corner.
From April 2013, the Government’s changes to the welfare system will start to come into effect and, quite simply, they pose a huge threat to social landlords and their tenants. For the past 12 months the sector has been stretched to the limit trying to mitigate the impact of both the bedroom tax and Universal Credit. Millions have been invested in developing communications strategies and hiring new finance staff. Meanwhile, business plans and risk management strategies have been re-written as the sector battens down the hatches and waits for the storm to hit.
As a result, at the exact moment the Government decides housebuilding is a priority those best placed to deliver affordable homes are otherwise engaged in a fight to stay afloat. While Cameron and Co. may choose to play politics about the type of people living in social homes, the sector thankfully does not. It’s a question of priorities.
The big issues of the housing year are covered in-depth in our review of 2012, starting on page 22, where some of the sector’s leading lights pass verdict on the last 12 months. It’s not all doom and gloom, I promise!