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Political roundabout keeps on turning and supply is still the big issue

As an industry, it would be fairly obvious to say that we have become somewhat used, and perhaps even inured, to the political ups and downs that regularly impact upon our sector, particularly when it comes to the constant changes at the various departments which have been and are now in charge of housing.

 

However, even the most seasoned of industry stakeholders might have raised a collective eyebrow at recent events, and of course political changes do not get any more serious than what is currently ongoing with the Conservative leadership election, which of course will result in a new Prime Minister in September.

 

The likelihood is therefore that, when the new Prime Minister chooses their next Cabinet, we will get our third new Minister in the space of three months, unless the current incumbent – Greg Clark who took over from Michael Gove – is deemed worthy of retaining the position.

 

It has to be said that any new Prime Minister however seems likely to adopt a ‘new broom’ approach when it comes to any minister employed by Boris Johnson. However, we wait and see.

 

In terms of housing specifically, I think we are now numbering over 20 different Housing Ministers in the last 25 years, and it won’t need me to say that this represents a distinct lack of continuity, making it difficult to secure any sort of long-term strategy and vision for a sector of the market which is so vitally important to the UK economy and UK plc.

 

There is a very good argument to suggest that housing is so important to the UK economy that it should be deemed a cross-party issue, and subject to a consensus in order to plan its long-term future.

 

I appreciate this sounds utterly naïve on my part, especially given the very different ways that each party approaches housing. You only need look at the policies Boris Johnson announced in June – right to buy for social housing tenants being the obvious one – to understand that it is highly unlikely a future Labour Government would be supportive of this.

 

Indeed, just over this weekend, the various candidates for the Conservative leadership were setting out their own views on housing, particularly how to boost supply, and again there were very different views on how this might be achievable.

 

From greater use of modular housing, building new towns, greater use of brownfield, less planning restrictions, housing development zones, improving the number of homes built by small and medium builders, the list goes on.

 

I suppose that it is positive all the candidates recognised the significant problem that is UK housing supply. Our Director of Delivery, Beth Rudolf, recently wrote a piece in Estate Agent Today on this very issue, and I would recommend you read it here. As Beth points out, this is not just an issue in terms of owner-occupation, but increasingly in terms of the private rental sector, where a lack of supply is just as acute and pushing rents up.

 

This is of course a huge issue to be tackled and one that has been on the agenda for decades. Go back to the 2005 Barker Review of Housing which suggested that we need 250,000 new properties every year to be built in this country, and that’s just to stand still. It will surprise no-one to realise that we’ve not built that number of homes in this country in any year since that report was announced.

 

The Conservative Party manifesto had a commitment that it would build 300,000 new homes every year by the mid-2020s. In recent months, that target has been deemed to be ‘arbitrary’ and Michael Gove suggested it was not going to be hit – the numbers do not lie.

 

So, while there is a lot of talk about fresh starts, resetting the economy, re-energising politics, and hitting policy commitments at the moment, one of the key issues remains the same as it has been for the last 25 years.

 

It would be nice to think that the next Prime Minister, and whoever they select to be the next Secretary of State for housing, meets this challenge head on and does everything they can to meet the target as set out in their 2019 manifesto. Improving the supply of property into our marketplace is still the number one issue to be addressed. It’s time to take some considerable steps forward to solve this problem.

 

Finally, I was delighted to see so many members at our recent series of meetings in London on the 6th July, plus we all got the chance to let our hair down a little on the annual River Cruise, sponsored by the CA and Groundsure.

 

As we sit baking in the mid-Summer sun, September might seem a rather long time away – and I sincerely hope you’ll all be able to take some time away from work over the forthcoming weeks – however I did want to put our next meeting firmly on your radar and in your diary.

 

Our next series of meetings takes place on the 14th September at the Queen Mary Undercroft at the Old Royal Navy College, followed by dinner aboard the Cutty Sark itself. It’s one not to be missed and therefore if you are able to join us, please book your place by visiting here.

 

On that note, ‘enjoy’ the heat, and I will catch up with you all next month.

 

Nicky Heathcote is Non-Executive Chair at the Conveyancing Association (CA) 

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