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PM promises thousands of new homes and radical planning reform

PM Boris Johnson (pictured) has pledged that, as part of a suite of measures to rebuild the economy following the COVID-19 crisis, the government will aim to build thousands of new homes on Brownfield sites and others.

Johnson also flagged ‘radical’ upcoming planning reform at levels that he claimed have not been seen since the end of World War 2.

He also promised that the economic crisis would not be met with a return to austerity measures.

During the announcement, Johnson said: “We’re preparing now slowly, cautiously to come out of hibernation, and I believe it’s absolutely vital for us to set out the way ahead, so that everyone can think and plan for the future, short, medium and long-term.”

In reference to home building, specifically, he added: “There has been an intergenerational injustice and the government will now help to get the young on the housing ladder just as their parents did.

“Build, build, build. Build better. Build faster.”

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Managing Director of estate agent Barrows and Forrester, James Forrester, commented:

“Today’s announcement by the Prime Minister is a rallying call to commerce, industry, the property sector and finance, to piggy-back his huge spending plans and literally put Britain back together again.

We seem set to spend our way to fiscal health and to ensure, in particular, that there is finally a genuine home-building revolution to match similar investment intentions in the transport, education and health sectors.

What a welcome relief this is and at just the right time.”

Marc von Grundherr, director of lettings and estate agent Benham and Reeves commented: “Like many areas of life, the severe lack of homes being built has understandably taken a back seat.

“However, it now stands as one of the pillars on which the government is forming its economic recovery plan.

“Hopefully, this added emphasis on such a burning issue will result in some action and this will be nothing but positive for the UK property market.

“Of course, there is always the danger that, like many before him, the Prime Minister’s words will equate to little more than just that.

“With the UK property market still facing a very uncertain landscape, we certainly hope this isn’t the case.”

Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent and a former residential chairman of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), said: “While, of course, the announcement of more building is very welcome we want to see more specifics, not just on desperately-needed affordable housing projects but a strict timetable for delivery, especially of sites with planning.

“So many of the larger schemes in particular are mired in planning or lending red tape so certainly the concentration on infrastructure will help to release many from that log jam by improving connectivity.”

Mark Hayward, chief executive at NAEA Propertymark, said: “Propertymark welcomes the Prime Minister’s ambition to bounce back as we enter the new phase of this pandemic.

“It is important that as we try to reboot the economy we build a greater supply of affordable houses that can rejuvenate urban areas most affected by this crisis.

“Simplification of the planning process will ease the pressures caused on the supply of homes and ensure the property market drives the UK’s economic recovery.

“We look forward to working with government during its White Paper process later this month to ensure the system has less red tape and is easier to navigate.”

By Jessica Bird

Source: Mortgage Introducer

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New housing projects announced by North Lanarkshire Council

North Lanarkshire Council has added further sites for new build homes, awarded new contracts to take forward more developments and outlined housing plans for villages and town centres as it drives forward its plans to deliver 5,000 new council homes across the region.

The four towns for which proposals are being sought are Motherwell (including Ravenscraig), Bellshill, Airdrie and Coatbridge. Other suitable locations may be considered on a site by site basis. Developers are being asked to contact the council to part of its plans.

According to the local authority, the new contracts, combined with the Development Pathfinder scheme to purchase more properties from private housebuilders, are helping to support North Lanarkshire’s economic recovery and sustain jobs as the region emerges from the COVID-19 lockdown situation.

The council’s teams have continued to progress housing projects during lockdown, ensuring contracts continue to move forward, and to prepare purchases of homes through the Open Market Purchase Scheme which will see the purchase of former council homes restart once restrictions are lifted.

Continuing to identify sites is seen as “crucial” to ensuring its phased plans to demolish existing tower blocks and build new accessible homes are met.

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Some of the recently approved proposals include:

  • Potential sites for new homes identified at Glenacre Drive, Airdrie; Gibb Street, Chapelhall and Graham Street, Wishaw, which will be developed in conjunction with the redevelopment of the social work office at King Street to support the regeneration of our town centres.
  • Approval to award contracts to take forward new build homes on the sites of the former Belhaven House, Wishaw; the former Chiltern’s House, Chryston at the former council flats in Northburn Avenue, Airdrie; Burnhall Place, Waterloo and Caledonian Avenue, Bellshill.
  • Ambitious plans to convert the former Municipal Buildings, Kildonan Street, Coatbridge, into new affordable homes

Other town centre housing projects are also progressing and include plans for the redevelopment at: Kingshouse, King Street (Wishaw) for town centre residential use; the former Methodist Church site in Wishaw for new town centre flats; the vacant YMCA building on Windmillhill Street, Motherwell and the future regeneration of the fire damaged site on Main Street, Coatbridge.

Plans to address the derelict building at the former Sharks Mouth pub, Bank Street, Coatbridge have also taken a major step forward. Planning permission is granted and approval given to progress with the procurement of the work, including demolition of most of the building while retaining some of the façade of the pub.

Councillor Pat O’Rourke, acting convener of communities and housing, said: “Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, construction work, in line with Scottish Government guidelines, has come to a halt. However, we’ve continued to work behind the scenes to push forward our ambitious housing programme to ensure we deliver our target.

“This means we’re ready to support the construction industry at this difficult time as soon as it’s safe to be up and running again.

“The contracts we’ve awarded also include a range of community benefits for local areas including careers events for school children, grants to local groups, new jobs and apprenticeship opportunities. By creating local jobs and training we’ll be strengthening our local economy over a sustained period.

“Improving the lives of our tenants and regenerating our local communities and town centres are the drivers behind our long term ambition. It’s an exciting time for North Lanarkshire and we’re committed to delivering on our ambitions and aspirations for the area and our residents.”

Source: Scottish Housing News

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Build-to-rent development launches in Wembley

HUB has completed Chesterfield House in Wembley, North London, a 239-home build-to-rent development designed by architects Maccreanor Lavington.

The landmark scheme, which comprises two buildings of 21 and 26-storeys, has been handed over to Realstar, which will operate Chesterfield House under its UNCLE brand.

The development is now known as UNCLE Wembley.

Alex Hall, senior development manager at HUB, said: “The new development brings 239 exemplar build-to-rent homes to Wembley under the UNCLE brand, including extensive public realm and retail from which the whole community will benefit.

“Not only is the project a fantastic new asset for the area, it is also an architecturally superb building that we believe represents a real step-change in quality for Wembley and acts as a regeneration marker for the High Road.

“As we now look ahead to delivering Wembley Link, HUB’s second development in the revitalisation of Wembley High Road, we would like to thank the people of Wembley for their crucial input during consultation for Chesterfield House.

“We would also like to thank our contractors Henry Construction for their commitment to the project in ensuring the extremely high-quality and timely delivery of UNCLE Wembley.

“Since day one, HUB has worked closely with local people to secure the best outcome for everyone – and we believe that UNCLE Wembley represents just that.”

The property will offer a choice of furnished and unfurnished apartments, with the furnished element provided by Danish brand Bo Concept.

UNCLE said it made sure the amenities are also focused around enhancing the physical and mental well-being of its residents.

These include a fitness studio with Technogym equipment and a TRX wall, a Zen Zone which incorporates an InHere Meditation Studio, a rooftop terrace and BBQ area as well as an indoor three-point basketball court.

The two main blocks are connected by a seven-storey building which frames a new public square at ground floor level. The square features seating, paved areas as well as new planting.

A public walkway through the link building also provides access to potential future phases of development behind the High Road.

The project was delivered via a partnership between HUB and specialist investor Bridges Fund Management. Building contractor Henry Construction completed work at the Brent site last month following a three-year programme to deliver Wembley’s tallest building.

BY RYAN BEMBRIDGE

Source: Property Wire

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Housebuilders get back to business

The housebuilding sector started 2020 on the front foot thanks to the decisive victory by the Conservative party in the December 2019 general election.

The big majority seized by the pro-business Tory party injected optimism into the industry. The win for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives – who ran with a view to ‘get Brexit done’ – also put to bed the prospect the UK might hold a second referendum on EU membership, which set the scene for the UK to leave the EU in late January. A number of firms said they saw an uptick in customer interest after the election. It would appear that some people were holding off buying property until the political landscape became clearer. However, political uncertainty could reappear toward the end of 2020, when the UK will exit the transition period.

In recent years the sector has been fuelled by low interest rates, the Help to Buy scheme, and a willingness for banks to lend. The UK economy was in good shape at the start of the year as the unemployment rate was on par with levels last seen in the 1970s, and earnings were comfortably outstripping inflation, so workers were getting an increase in real wages. A strong economic backdrop combined with political stability provided a decent foundation for the housing market. The bulk of the big listed housebuilders saw their share prices go on to set record highs in early February, so traders were clearly bullish on the industry.

When the Covid-19 crisis took hold in the UK, there was a broad-based sell-off, so homebuilders took a hammering along with everyone else. The situation became even bleaker when banks such as Barclays and Halifax pulled a large portion of their mortgage products, a decision they have since then reversed. Rightmove, the property portal, said there was huge drop-off in the number of people offering to sell their properties. When the lockdown was introduced, government guidelines were for people not to move property, unless they had already exchanged contracts, but the guidelines have since been relaxed. Construction sites largely ground to a halt too. The industry was effectively frozen.

In reaction to the pandemic, the Bank of England cut interest rates to 0.1% – a fresh record low – but keep in mind in January they were only 0.75%, so they didn’t have that far to fall. Some would argue the recent rate cuts aren’t going to make much of a difference to the economy, as a slightly lower borrowing rate is unlikely to encourage people to take out a big mortgage, for instance. At the same time, cheap mortgage rates are no bad thing as far as the property market is concerned. A report from last month found that even though some mortgage rates have fallen because of the BoE rate cuts, others have actually risen. The FCA have called on mortgage providers to treat their customers fairly and pass on the rate cuts.

The UK construction PMI report for April crashed to 8.2, a record low. Keep in mind that 52.6 was registered in February – which was the strongest report since late 2018. The UK construction output for February was -1.7%, which was a fall from the -0.2% posted in January. If the output was falling off in February, the March reading will probably be even worse again.

There has been a lot of speculation about what will happen to house prices in the months ahead. The general consensus is they will fall, but industry professionals remain divided over how far they will slide, and what sort of a recovery will be witnessed. The house price reports have been mixed recently. The Halifax report for April showed that prices were down 0.6% on the month. The Rightmove update showed a 0.2% decline in April, while the Nationwide reading showed 0.7% growth in April. Mortgage approvals tumbled from 74,000 in February – the highest since March 2016 – to 56,000 in March, the lowest level in seven years. The mortgage data would suggest there was a huge fall in demand, but that could be a function of some banks cutting back on the number of mortgages being offered. Seeing as unemployment is tipped to jump, it is fair to say that property demand is likely to wane in the near-term.

For all the doom and gloom doing the rounds, there has been some positive news stories. Vistry, formerly Bovis Homes, was the first of the big housebuilders to return to work as operations resumed last week. Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon also recommenced work in the same period. Bellway began phased work on Monday. Barratt Developments will start preparations for new working guidelines next week, while Redrow will start preparing sites for the new working conditions too, with the view to reopening approximately 50% of sites in the near-term. Barratt, Bellway and Redrow were the only firms of the bunch to confirm that customer interest has been mediocre since the health emergency struck.

The firms will be adhering to strict social distancing guidelines, and they will be predominantly focusing on projects that are near completion. The level of activity that will be undertaken in the next few months is likely to be tiny in comparison to the pre-pandemic levels, but any progress should be welcomed. These days if you are taking any steps back toward normality, that sets you apart from the crowd.

On a year-to-date-basis, Berkeley Group are the best performer as the stock is down only 16%. Vistry are the worst performer as the stock is down 42%, but keep in mind it rallied over 60% in 2019, when it was still known as Bovis Homes. The group changed its name to Vistry in January just after it completed the takeover of Linden Homes, the housebuilding arm of Galliford Try. It is possible that Vistry’s underperformance was driven by the fact it finalised a £1.1 billion takeover deal, shortly before the health crisis struck.

The industry was very strong in advance of the health emergency, and some people would say it was overstretched. On average, the big six homebuilders saw their share price fall by 28% YTD, while the FTSE 100 and the FTSE 250 are down 22% and 27% respectively. The sector is only starting to emerge from the lockdown. It is encouraging to see that activity has restarted, but the real test will be whether client demand bounces back or not. Some industries are likely to remain in the doldrums in the near term, so the housebuilding sector is moving in the right direction, which is likely to pop up on traders’ radars.

BY DAVID MADDEN

Source: CMC Markets

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Shropshire Council to build 1,000 homes over five years under new plans

Shropshire Council has announced plans to to build 1,000 new houses, including 400 council homes, over the next five years.

Following decisions made at a full council meeting in February, the authority’s housing company, Cornovii Developments Limited, will have access to a rolling loan facility of £35 million, on top of a £14m loan previously agreed.

The project will run until 2025.

The council also agreed in principle for the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), which holds the authority’s 4,100 council homes and is managed by Shropshire Towns and Rural Housing (STaR Housing), to borrow £10m per year over the next five years. This, together with HRA reserves and potential grant funding, amounts to a £75m investment in new housing.

Both companies will provide a mix of housing tenures to help address an unmet housing need in Shropshire. This will include ‘affordable’ rent, low-cost home ownership, private rented, and open market sales.

Key workers
Development will include homes specifically built for key workers, veterans, older people, those with learning and physical disabilities, and those struggling to afford or buy on the open market.

Shropshire Council said it is focused on integrating health, education, employment, transport, shopping, leisure and amenity needs into any new development.

The authority added that the new homes across the county will help support the local economy, create new jobs and apprenticeships, and generate additional value to reinvest into council services.

Robert Macey, cabinet member for housing and strategic planning, said: “A great deal of work has gone into identifying the unmet housing need in Shropshire.

“This unprecedented level of local investment presents us with a unique opportunity to build the quality, reasonably-priced homes that people and their families need, whilst at the same time helping to address many of the other housing challenges facing our county.”

Mark Barrow, executive director of place, said: “This announcement demonstrates our determination to build the homes Shropshire needs.

“Last year, affordable housing accounted for just 14 per cent of overall new builds in the county. Our plans commit the council to delivering 40 per cent affordable housing across the portfolio of our new housing and business plans.”

By Rory Smith

Source: Shropshire Star

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Build-to-rent experiences boom

The number of completed homes for build-to-rent have increased by 42% between the first quarter of 2019 and the same period in 2020.

Research published by the British Property Federation shows there are 157,512 build-to-rent homes complete, under construction or in planning across the UK.

As it stands there are 33,505 build-to-rent homes under construction, 11% less than last year, though the number in planning is up 12% to £80,771.

Ian Fletcher, director of real estate policy, British Property Federation, said: “Pain is being felt across all sectors of the economy, but build-to-rent remains attractive to investors and we know from past experience that demand for rental housing usually leads homes-for-sale out of any recovery.

“Our statistics show that a quarter of build-to-rent delivery is now coming from major housebuilders and their support of the sector, through for example access to land, could really boost growth in this sector.”

Outside of London there were 58% more build-to-rent homes completed year-on-year.

However in the capital completions have increased by just 2% year-on-year, while homes in the planning stage are down 10%.

Fletcher added: “One concern is the London pipeline – the statistics show a sharp decline in the number of homes in planning across the capital.

“London was a leader in championing build-to-rent and the sector’s role in adding much-needed new homes to its housing market.

“The imbalance between housing demand and supply has not gone away, and if anything the impact of coronavirus has shown us that a safe and secure home for everyone is fundamental, and we should be doing everything we can to ensure the capital’s housing market delivers for everyone.”

Local developers are currently responsible for building 28% of the market, with UK housebuilders (27%), major UK developers (17%), contractors (14%), registered providers (9%) and major international developers (3%) making up the rest.

Jacqui Daly, director of Savills residential research, said: “We’d expect high levels of uncertainty to increase demand for rented accommodation as people look to avoid longer term commitments such as mortgages, or if borrowing remains more constrained.

“At the same time, we expect to see the leveraged buy-to-let sector to remain under pressure, driving demand into build-to-rent.

“This means that once lockdown is lifted, build-to-rent developers should be confident to progress stalled developments.

“Also, housebuilders will face particular pressure to restore their sales rates when restrictions on doing business are lifted so we could see a greater role for build-to-rent to absorb stock.

“Housebuilders now account for 27% of total build-to-rent pipeline compared to just 10% just three years ago. We could see this share increase significantly over coming months.”

BY RYAN BEMBRIDGE

Source: Property Wire

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Nearly 250 new homes planned for Hallhill

NEARLY 250 new homes could be built to the south of the East Coast Mainline in Dunbar.

A section of land at Hallhill North, to the west of the town’s Lochend campus of Dunbar Primary School, has been earmarked for development by Taylor Wimpey East Scotland and Hallhill Developments Ltd.

The scheme, if approved, would likely be the final development in the Hallhill area of the town, south of the railway line.

However, Dunbar Community Council has concerns about the proposals and how they would connect with the rest of the town.

The scheme is made up of 242 houses – 29 with two bedrooms, 91 with three bedrooms, 76 with four bedrooms and six with five bedrooms – as well as 29 two-bedroom flats and 11 one-bedroom flats.

Pauline Mills, land and planning director for Taylor Wimpey East Scotland, said: “We are delighted to confirm that we have made our detailed planning application for the development of land off Yosemite Park in Dunbar, following our consultation process late last year.

“Our proposal includes a provision of 25 per cent affordable homes within the development, as well as a range of contributions that can be announced when our discussions are concluded with the council.

“As well as delivering the next phase of new homes following completion of our Albany Grange development, our latest proposal for development will provide a range of economic benefits for the local area which includes supporting over 160 jobs per year of construction, as well as the attraction of new customers to local businesses.

“We believe this development would be a great further addition to the local area.

“It also complements our other developments across the region.”

Dunbar Community Council met with the developer at the beginning of last year.

Pippa Swan, the group’s chairwoman, said they had concerns about the proposals.

She said: “We knew it was coming as it is all part of the [Hallhill] masterplan.

“The comments that we made were simply about how the additional 240 homes were going to impact on the circulation of traffic along Brodie Road and the impact it was going to have on traffic into Belhaven past the hospital, on Hospital Road and Beveridge Row.”

The drawings for the development, which is with East Lothian Council’s planning department, highlight space being left for a pedestrian tunnel under the railway line to the north.

Talks have been taking place for a number of years regarding the possibility of reopening the tunnel, between Ash Grove and Elm Street, or creating a new tunnel.

Mrs Swan stressed the importance of creating a development that was “porous” and allowed connectivity between the town to the north of the East Coast Mainline and the homes at Hallhill, to the south of the railway line.

She said previous discussions had estimated the cost of a pedestrian tunnel to be in excess of £1 million and added: “It would be absolutely marvellous if it happened.

“It is the same old chestnut – who owns the railway line? Who is going to pay to reopen the tunnel?”

Meanwhile, separate proposals for a further 37 homes in Hallhill are still being weighed up by East Lothian Council’s planning department.

Harrison Hunt Ltd and Hallhill Developments Ltd are looking to build new houses on the south-west corner of the Hallhill area, between Beveridge Row and Yosemite Park.

The proposed housing is a mixture of three and four-bedroom properties.

The plans, which were submitted to East Lothian Council’s planning department in November last year, show 13 of the homes would be four-bedroom detached properties.

The remaining 24 homes would all have three bedrooms, with 12 of the properties detached, eight of them semi-detached and four as terraced homes.

By Cameron Ritchie

Source: East Lothian Courier

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Industry leaders call for emergency plan to save UK construction

The Construction Leadership Council has written to the prime minister setting out essential actions to secure the future of the sector.

Research last week showed that without further support nearly half of all companies in the sector face potential failure in the next three months.

Today, in a letter to the prime minister, the Construction Leadership Council has asked the government to implement measures to save cash-strapped companies in the construction supply chain:

Suspend PAYE and CIS tax due to HMRC in April and May for construction and consultancy firms and workers with no financial penalty;

Defer/cancel Apprenticeship Levy payments for the duration of the crisis;

Government to advise all public sector clients, regulated utilities, and firms in the private sector to expedite cash flow throughout the supply chain;

Support the directors of micro-businesses, who currently fall between the support provided by the Job Retention Scheme and assistance for the self-employed;

Direct all government bodies to release all retention monies;

Extend the £25k SME business continuity grants scheme to the construction sector.

In addition, the sector has asked for clear and visible encouragement that the production of building materials continues where possible, and that electrical, plumbing, and general builders’ merchants remain open so that the industry can function.

Andy Mitchell, co-chair of the Construction Leadership Council, said: “The construction industry is a key strategic sector of the UK economy and is playing a vital role in building and maintaining NHS estates, enabling the transport sector to function, and keeping the lights on in homes around the country.

“It is not an either/or question. The UK economy requires a functioning construction sector that can operate safely during this crisis and will rely upon construction workers and companies to get Britain building once we’ve won the war against Covid-19.

“We are calling on the government to take these steps not only to save jobs and companies in the long term, but to ensure our sector can continue to function throughout the weeks and months to come.

“The UK government’s response to this crisis has been bold and necessary. It is time now for it to roll out emergency measures to protect UK construction directly, which is a sector of national strategic importance in good times as well as bad.”

The letter was written by the Construction Leadership Council with support from National Federation of Builders, Civil Engineering Contractors, Build UK, Association for Consultancy & Engineering, Electrical Contractors Association (ECA), Home Builders Federations, Federation of Master Builders, British Property Federation, Construction Products Association, and Construction Industry Council (on behalf of 35 professional institutions and associations).

By Rob O’Connor

Source: Infrastructure Intelligence

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Housebuilders call for consistent government message

The National Federation of Builders (NFB) has called for a consistent message from the government about safe on-site working practices.

Housebuilder Taylor Wimpey is one of few firms to have closed its sites to protect the spread of coronavirus.

Yesterday Prime Minister Boris Johnson said people may only leave home to exercise once per day, to travel to and from work, to shop for essentials, and to fulfil any medical or care needs.

Richard Beresford, chief executive of the NFB, said: “The Prime Minister’s address was a strong warning to the nation and we now need written guidance about which industries can remain open.

“Industry has been working on safety guidance, which will be updated to reduce all risks but we also need a consistent message across the government.

“At the moment, it’s absolutely not business as usual but we are trying to support our industry to fit within this new and ever changing normality.”

The NFB has welcomed regular engagement from the Government and partnership working with the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), especially as many businesses are desperate to keep sites operational with their staff and supply chain, in work.

Nick Sangwin, NFB chair, said: “It has been a very difficult few months and we have been working hard to ensure our members and the wider industry has strong guidance on safe working practices.

“Projects vary in size and complexity and we look to the government for clear guidance on this issue.

“There are also key strategic national assets that are under construction that may fall under the key worker category that needs looking at.

“We would ask the government to consult with the experts such as the NFB to provide assistance on this.”

BY RYAN BEMBRIDGE

Source: Property Wire

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House builders demand more Help to Buy subsidies from government

Lobbyists acting for the housing industry have demanded continued Help to Buy (HTB) subsidies from the Scottish Government, despite criticism that the cash simply inflates house prices and benefits large house builders, The Ferret can reveal.

The heads of Homes for Scotland and banking and financial services body UK Finance both pressured the government to extend HTB, according to communications released under freedom of information law.

Both bodies sit on the government’s Help To Buy Scotland affordable new build monitoring group, which gives them privileged access to senior civil servants and monitoring data the government holds on the HTB scheme.

With HTB, the government subsidises the mortgages of prospective buyers by up to 15 per cent of the price of a new home. But critics say it pushes up house prices to the detriment of those on low incomes.

In 2017 we reported that a social policy expert, housing charity Shelter Scotland, and the Scottish Greens, all called on the government to end the controversial scheme. The Greens said the government is now facing pressure from groups with “vested interests”.

‘Dysfunctional’ Help to Buy subsidy should be scrapped, say critics

Transparency campaign group, Spinwatch, said that problems arise “when private companies abuse privileged access in clear conflict of interest situations”. They called on governments to “move away from the involvement of private industry in policy making”.

However, Homes for Scotland said it conveys the views of its members in “a professional and evidence-based manner at all times”, while UK Finance said HTB was a good example of “public and private sector engagement”.

Between 2017-19, the government allocated an average of £25,300 in equity for each home purchased with the subsidy.

Data shows that just under half of the estimated £118 million in taxpayer subsidised mortgages went to Scotland’s three largest housebuilders, Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Barratt, between 2017-19. These three firms are all members of Homes for Scotland.

In a letter to finance secretary Derek Mackay MSP, Homes for Scotland chief executive Nicola Barclay put pressure on the government to continue HTB and expand its financial contribution to the scheme.

In a letter dated 8th December 2017, Barclay urged Mackay to inject more money into HTB after the UK Chancellor announced more funds for the English HTB scheme during the 2017 Autumn budget.

Mackay was urged to use the extra money made available to Scottish Government as a result of Barnett consequentials to commit to “as an absolute minimum – an annual budget of £50m for HTB Scotland up to and including 2020-21”.

This would equate to “just 10 per cent of the consequentials”, allowing the government to “fund social rent and other forms of social housing”, Barclay claimed. The government’s “ongoing support is, in our opinion, essential,” she added.

The government was also pressured to extend HTB by UK Finance.

“Our members are getting more concerned about the lack of news on the future of the scheme, particularly as some firms have just joined”, the banking body told a civil servant in an email dated 3 April 2019.

The government’s timescale did not leave “enough time for the industry (both lenders and builders) to adapt or transition”, it added. “What’s happening, please?”

A civil servant replied that the scheme was due to be evaluated “based on evidence, as well the latest economic position”, with the results due by the end of 2019.

In response, UK Finance warned that certain factors had the potential to make it difficult for the government to implement an extension of the scheme if it did not act quickly. These included a Financial Conduct Authority consultation on mortgage affordability rules, as well as Brexit uncertainty and Westminster having extended the scheme in England.

“Without a prompt announcement of Scotland’s intentions for this period, there is a risk of potential competitive disadvantage for Scotland if builders scale-back production there in favour of England where there is clear future commitment of support”, warned UK Finance.

In another email dated 18th June 2019, the body asked when “stakeholder involvement” would be included in the development of the government’s first-time buyer deposits, adding: “the clock is ticking.”

‘Clear conflict of interest’

In minutes of the HTB monitoring group dated 19th June 2018, a civil servant indicated that the two groups would be given privileged access to government data on housing.

Joanne McDowell of the government’s More Homes division confirmed the government was “happy to share monitoring information with Homes for Scotland and UK Finance but not for wider circulation outwith these organisations.”

David Miller, co-founder of Spinwatch, said the relationship between the two bodies and the government was “another indication of the need to move away from the involvement of private industry in policy making”.

He said: “This example shows the problems that arise when private companies abuse privileged access in clear conflict of interest situations.

“The government should be building many more homes to meet the housing crisis and the wholly avoidable daily deaths of homeless people on our streets. They should avoid lining the pockets of building company owners in the process.”

The Scottish Greens’ Andy Wightman MSP, who chairs the cross-party group on housing at Holyrood, argued that HTB “does nothing to tackle the housing crisis”.

The scheme “actually makes housing more expensive for everyone else by pushing up prices generally and does little to benefit those on low incomes or in rural areas,” he said. “It doesn’t surprise me that vested interests are putting pressure on the government.”

Jackie Bennett, director of mortgages at UK Finance argued that HTB “has helped many homeowners to take their first step on to the housing ladder and is a great example of public and private sector engagement.”

She added: “The mortgage industry continues to work with the Scottish Government to support its housing strategy.”

A Homes for Scotland spokesperson said: “As a membership organisation, it is our responsibility to convey the views of those we represent. We do this in a professional and evidence-based manner at all times.

“Our member companies are responsible for delivering the vast majority of new homes that Scotland needs to meet the housing needs and aspirations of its growing population.”

HTB ‘not benefiting those in rural areas’

Data obtained by The Ferret reveals that of the 4,662 subsidised homes built between 2017-19, more than half went to properties in five central belt council areas, with little going to properties in rural council areas.

Some 15 per cent were built in Glasgow, 12 per cent in South Lanarkshire, 11 per cent in North Lanarkshire, and 7 per cent each in Renfrewshire and Edinburgh.

Scotland’s most remote areas benefited least from subsidised mortgages. These included Orkney and Argyll and Bute, the latter of which saw just two homes built. Not a single home supported by HTB was built in Shetland and the Western Isles.

In July we reported that the Scottish Government was failing to meet targets to boost the number of affordable homes for rural and island communities. Campaigners said that excessive bureaucracy, lack of support, tight time frames and restrictive regulations had prevented communities from making use of the funding.

Scottish Government failing to meet rural housing targets

Derek Logie, chief executive of the Rural Housing Scotland charity, said new figures show that HTB “has had a limited impact in some rural areas; despite the welcome Help to Buy for Small Developers scheme.”

Logie called for a “Help to Build” scheme in rural areas “to provide grant support for self build, with the grant converted into an equity share in the completed build.” Such a scheme would “better reflect the nature of housebuilding in rural Scotland and enhance the support already provided through the Self Build Loan Scheme”, he added.

The Scottish Government defended HTB as “a demand-led scheme” that helps buyers into homeownership, while letting them “decide which area they wish to purchase in”.

A spokesperson said that first time buyers and under 35s were the main beneficiaries of HTB and Open Market Shared Equity schemes, making up over 80 and 70 per cent of participants respectively.

However, an “independent evaluation” of all the government’s shared equity schemes was underway and would inform its decisions on the future of HTB ”beyond 2021”, the spokesperson added.

By Jamie Mann

Source: The Ferret