One year on from government’s housing market White Paper

Just over 12 months ago, prime minister Theresa May announced a White Paper laying out what the government planned to do to “fix our broken housing market”.

In this blog, I’m looking at what’s changed, what’s been achieved and what’s to come.

A welcome pledge

The industry, campaigners and housing bodies universally welcomed the White Paper. It’s been a long time since any government has pledged to tackle the problem head on, and action is much needed.

We all welcomed the list of proposals, which included plans to open the market to smaller investors. The government also pledged that they would create a planning framework more supportive to the higher levels of development.

The main thrust of the White Paper was to make sure the UK:

  • Plans for the right homes in the right places.
  • Builds homes faster.
  • Diversifies the housing market.
  • Help people now.

However, after the initial enthusiastic reaction to the White Paper, it all seemed to go quiet.

Cabinet changes

Thanks to the snap general election called in May 2017, the former housing minister who had come up with most of the policy ideas lost his seat. Gavin Barwell returned as the prime minister’s chief of staff, but the position of housing minister had to be filled again.

The replacement for the housing minister, Alok Sharma, had only been in the role for one day when the Grenfell Tower tragedy took his focus away from the White Paper. While this was understandable, yet more upheaval affected the White Paper due to the ensuing reshuffle. Housing became a cabinet position with Sajid Javid named as secretary of state for housing and local government and yet another housing minister was appointed with Dominic Raab.

Disruption caused delay

It’s not surprising that the disruption within the government slowed any progress on the plans announced in the White Paper. Earlier this year the government did announce £866m worth of investment into local housing projects and schemes.

However, despite this spark of progress, very few of the White Paper proposals have been actioned, and the industry is collectively frustrated by the lack of tangible progress.

Are things about to change?

There is a lot of momentum in the industry for making change happen. Ghislaine Halpenny, director of external affairs at the British Property Federation has advised ministers to not reset the housing White Paper, saying: “… it’s good, just do it…” and that they should… “encourage multi departmental working – good housing is the bedrock for all else.”

We have also seen signs that the new housing minister Dominic Raab is keen to get started. A Conservative adviser said: “He knows the history of housing ministers. He is clear that he isn’t going to waste time and wants to make an impact quickly.”

Challenges ahead

Raab faces the implacability of the Conservative Party’s rural wing as he seeks to make changes. They are adamant that greenbelt land should never be built on.

Greenbelt land is always controversial and a point of contention when it comes to housing and planning. However, there is much in the White Paper that isn’t as controversial and has already been welcomed by the industry, developers, planners, community groups and politicians.

More than a year after the White Paper was published, I hope to see the government putting more proposals into action throughout 2018.

– Richard Carr, Fortitudo Ltd

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