In response to communities secretary, Sajid Javid’s speech to the Commons on the Housing White Paper, representatives from a cross section of business lines at global real estate advisor, Colliers International, have provided their initial reactions and discuss how the announcements might impact the commercial property sector.
Jonathan Manns, head of regeneration and director of planning at Colliers International commented, "It’s happened! After months of rumour and speculation the Government has finally published it’s Housing White Paper. Yet, rather than this climactic moment proving to be the explosive finale to end a national crisis, the Secretary of State has revealed a predictably damp squib. We turned up at the last night of the Proms expecting an evening of vigorous flag-waving, only to find the Albert Hall is empty and has closed due to funding cuts.
"Reassuringly, the White Paper encourages some of the things we’ve known we should be doing for a while. There’s support for the private rented sector, small builders and public-sector delivery. We’re also told that the private-sector will benefit from a quicker, more efficient and reliable approach to processing planning applications. All this at the same time as fixing a broken market, removing one of the biggest barriers to social progress and avoiding any need to rip up the countryside.
"Dig into the (*cough*) detail and, beyond the hollow and misguiding rhetoric, there are the odd tweaks to the status quo. Councils, we’re told, should continue to review the targets in their Local Plans and ensure they’re up-to-date. Hardly ground-breaking but reassuringly familiar. On the plus side, there’s a commitment to standardising the way that housing needs assessments are undertaken and reviewed.
"Regrettably, we see weakness in areas where it really matters. Despite demanding that Local Authorities don’t duck difficult questions, the Government has ruled out any consideration of the way in which we could reform the green belt to secure better outcomes for our built and natural environment. There’s no National Spatial Plan to balance economic growth or tangible indication of exactly how Local Authorities will be resourced to deliver their newfound responsibilities.
"Far from watching HMS Britain launch a buccaneering pre-Brexit assault on housing injustice and inequality, we find ourselves on the deck of RMS Titanic whilst Sajid Javid and his band seek to provide a reassuring distraction. Affluent baby-boomers, who clambered into the lifeboats of homeownership decades ago, drift quietly off.
"The political currents may be shifting, but it will take decades before we find ourselves so firmly on the rocks that Government is obligated to act. Unfortunately, by then it will be too late. Announcements from the bridge are that housing needs and aspirations will be met in the shorter-term and, with this, we’ve just missed another opportunity to change course.
Toby Greville. Director of Residential Development at Colliers International commented, "40 per cent of local planning authorities do not have a plan that meets the projected growth in households in their area. Why? - Politics!
"Almost every Local Authority wants to increase its housing supply; unfortunately, many hold a deep rooted suspicion towards developers and seek to tax private developers through social housing contributions and community infrastructure, so much that their demands render proposed projects too risky and unprofitable. Developers are used to lodging planning applications with the knowledge that their application will be refused on political grounds, only to win their case after a costly and timely appeal. It’s rarely in the developers’ interests to land bank and the consequence is too many decent projects are left unbuilt.
"Sadly, the Housing White Paper’s answer to this is to seek to deter ‘unnecessary appeals’ by imposing an appeal levy. Many more applications are passed on appeal than are refused; clear evidence that the fault lies with the local authority’s planning committee. The White Paper offers no solutions to this.”
Ashley Osborne, Head of UK Residential at Colliers International, said:
“Whilst some may be disappointed the white paper does not have enough teeth or go far enough, ultimately it is positive that the government is trying to tackle the housing crisis. This is a difficult issue to resolve and there is no magic solution. More realistic is a series of changes which initially alleviate and hopefully solve this significant issue which the UK faces together with many other countries across the globe.
“From a positive viewpoint, a greater focus on increasing development density and greater pressure on speeding up the planning process and holding planning authorities to account. Together with some acknowledgement that the crisis is not simply an issue of developers holding back potential sites through land banks but also genuine issues around both construction and finance risk.
“However, if we are going to make rapid strides to solving this issue perhaps more could have done to deal with a specific VISA for skilled migrant construction workers who face uncertainty post the BREXIT referendum and greater flexibility in how affordable housing is delivered i.e. could PRS investors take on this role?”