Four Key Housing Policies for the Next Prime Minister

“The general election presents a great opportunity for the successful new government to ensure the house building industry maintains the momentum it has begun to establish in recent years.
Following the 2010 election, the recovery in private sector house building from the post-credit crunch lows of 2008 stalled somewhat as public spending on housing was cut. A similar hiatus would be unfortunate and, in our view, whoever is entering Number 10 on the morning of 9 June has the opportunity to avoid this.

First, the recent shift in emphasis under Theresa May and her housing minister Gavin Barwell to a more balanced mix of new build housing tenures in England is welcome. While home ownership is undoubtedly important, we see the needs of our clients reflect a broader requirement than just this – shared ownership, private rent and sub-market rent all have a role to play too. A continuation of this approach would support a further increase in housing supply and go some way towards arresting the dip in new house building in London in the coming years, predicted by Savills.

Another positive step concerns Help to Buy. This policy was introduced in 2013 and has since proved very successful in helping first time buyers onto the housing ladder. To date more than 100,000 people have bought their home using Help to Buy and it has given much-needed confidence to developers and house builders through some tough years.

At present the equity loan element of Help to Buy (covering new-build homes) runs until 2020 – the incoming government should extend this for the duration of the next parliament until 2022. The policy remains very important to meeting people’s aspirations and to the sustained recovery of the house building industry.

Third, none of the above has much effect without a continued focus on the supply of development land. This is an issue which, although frequently aired, cannot be allowed to slip from the radar. In this context, the tougher stance on local authority Local Plans adopted by the government in the recent Housing White Paper is significant and should help to ensure greater availability of potential sites.

On public land in particular, the role of the streamlined Homes and Communities Agency – soon to be relaunched as Homes England – is crucial. Under the first of the HCA’s two rounds of the Development Partner Panel, local authorities and government departments have been supported to identify and bring forward more land for house building to be built by DPP contractors.

The announcement of successful bidders for the £8 billion third iteration of DPP has been delayed from April until after the election in June. Osborne Homes has bid to be a partner on the South East Lot and, in itself, the current delay is not an issue. What is important, however, is that the incoming government sticks to the DPP approach. In our view large public sector landowners are only beginning to become familiar and comfortable with the role of the HCA and the use of the DPP. Land is starting to flow and this should not be jeopardised.

The regional aspect of the DPP approach is prescient as it allows the HCA oversight of likely peaks and troughs in construction demand. This information should be used to ensure regional price spikes are avoided and build quality is paramount. Under the decent homes programme of 2000-10, we witnessed the problems that can arise when neighbouring housing providers procured maintenance works simultaneously and local contractors were often stretched. There is no need for this situation to be repeated – we can build at better quality for less.

One final point on increasing house building and public land – why not encourage greater use of modern methods of construction on publicly owned sites? In common with others in the sector, Osborne Homes supports increased use of off-site techniques. We are keen to expand our offer in this area and greater certainty of demand would really support this aim.

While the general election process itself will not unduly affect housebuilding numbers, what follows 8 June undoubtedly will. We are confident that if the new prime minister follows the steps outlined above, this impact will prove beneficial.”

Andy Doylend is Managing Director of Osborne Homes