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What’s on the table for the new housing minister?

A new housing minister has picked up the keys and it feels like Groundhog Day. Step forward Christopher Pincher, the Tory member for Tamworth. Pincher is the 10th housing minister in the last decade – a shocking statistic even by recent standards of ministerial churn.

The 50-year-old Walsall-born MP, who took up the job following Boris Johnson’s latest reshuffle, joined the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) from the Foreign Office, where he was minister for Europe and the Americas.

Pincher, a former deputy chief whip under Theresa May, took to Twitter to express his “delight” at the new role, although he was “sad” at leaving his job at the FCO.

It’s understandable. His role at MHCLG is as hard-nosed and domestic as is imaginable.

As parliamentarians know, housing has always occupied the hearts and minds of the British public. But it has become a lightning rod for more deep-rooted problems, summed up in one word: inequality. And this is never more apparent than in the UK’s dysfunctional housing market. The housing crisis did not permeate the general election campaign as much as expected – mainly due to Brexit – but it is never far from the headlines.

So what is piling up in Pincher’s inbox?

After Theresa May’s swerve to the left on housing, the Conservatives have returned to a more recognisable focus on home ownership.

Last month MHCLG unveiled plans for a scheme dubbed ‘First Homes’, which will offer some first-time buyers discounts of 30%. The scheme has already proved controversial, however, as critics argue it will hamper the supply of affordable homes. Other prospective house buyers have also been dangled a carrot with a pledge to encourage a “new market for long-term fixed-rate mortgages”.

Social housing tenants are too being promised a chance to experience a taste of home ownership. The Conservative manifesto vowed to extend a voluntary Right to Buy scheme for housing association residents, and a shared ownership Right to Buy scheme for social housing tenants is also promised.

It’s not all about home ownership though. Renters have been promised a “better deal” through a yet-to-be-tabled Renters Reform Bill. To the annoyance of landlord groups, the Conservative manifesto retained a commitment to end so-called ‘no-fault evictions’. This means landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants without a reason when their tenancy ends. The Bill is also expected to include the concept of a ‘lifetime deposit’, designed to make it easier for tenants to move more freely.

The fact remains, however, that the UK suffers from a severe housing shortage. Prior to the general election, the Government vowed to build 300,000 homes a year. But this has been dialled down to the more muted ambition of “at least” a million new homes over the current Parliament.

Question marks also remain over what type of housing this will be. While Labour pledged to be building at least 150,000 council and social homes annually within five years, the Conservatives failed to give a breakdown. Their manifesto committed to delivering hundreds of thousands of “affordable homes”, which remains a woolly concept. Boris Johnson has vowed to publish a social housing white paper which will “empower tenants and support the continued supply of social homes” but what this will involve is unclear.

Either way, the Government wants new homes to be built to more exacting environmental standards to tackle the climate emergency. In his first announcement as housing minister, Pincher launched a competition for designers with ideas around developing low-carbon homes. This move follows proposals for a ‘Future Home Standard’, which means from 2025 all new homes must have 80% fewer carbon emissions. A ‘social housing decarbonisation fund’ was also promised in the Conservatives’ manifesto.

But it does not stop there. Ministers believe that part of the problem with new-build housing is aesthetics. Bleeding through ministerial speeches has been the concept of ‘building beautiful’. It culminated in a report, overseen by the late Roger Scruton, which has inspired MHCLG to launch a ‘national model design code’.

Bear in mind however that the vast majority of new housing is built by the UK’s giant PLC housebuilders. A string of horror stories involving substandard new-build homes has resulted in the Government launching a New Homes Ombudsman, to protect homebuyers faced with “shoddy building work”. A ban on new-build homes being sold on a leasehold basis in future is also still planned, with critics referring to the system as “fleecehold”.

The other issue is where and how new homes should be built. The Tory manifesto vowed to “protect and enhance” Britain’s precious green belt. Instead, ministers will prioritise building on brownfield sites. This idea has caught the eye of companies building homes in factories, using so-called modern methods of construction (MMC). The Government is backing this fledgling idea and working with a number of offsite manufacturers to speed up the housebuilding process.

Meanwhile a white paper has been promised on reforms to the planning system to “ensure it works better for the public and small builders”, MHCLG has said.

It’s a head-spinning list. And this is without mentioning homelessness, which falls under the remit of another MHCLG junior minister, Luke Hall.

One issue will inevitably overshadow Pincher’s term in office – the ongoing response to the cladding crisis in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.

The Government has committed to a series of reforms around building safety. But for some, more immediate action is needed. Hundreds of residents of high-rise blocks are dealing with crippling bills to cover 24-hour fire safety surveillances and the cost of removing and fixing dangerous cladding. While the Government is providing money to fix Grenfell-style ACM cladding, it has failed to act on other types of dangerous cladding, amid a legal minefield for property freeholders and leaseholders. And with the second phase of the Grenfell Tower public inquiry having resumed this month, scheduled to run into next year, it is destined to stay high up the agenda.

Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, has taken ownership of the Grenfell response. Whether Pincher will have vacated MHCLG and dropped off the keys by the time the inquiry concludes is anybody’s guess.

By James Wilmore

Source: Politics Home

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New housing minister defends Right to Buy but says escalating house prices ‘cannot be right’

New housing minister Esther McVey has said that although there have been nine housing ministers in nine years, all have been united to deliver the homes that she claims Britain needs.

In a speech at the Resi conference in Newport, Wales, she also defended Right to Buy, claiming that it did not push up house prices and that no one was profiteering from it.

She told delegates: “Help to Buy is precisely that. It is helping people to buy, it is not helping somebody to make a profit, it is not helping to increase the prices of property. It is about helping people to buy. So this government will be vigilant about what is working, keeping an eye on our goal.”

She also referred to house price inflation, saying that house prices in some parts of the country had risen to between eight and 44 times average local earnings since the nineties. She said: “That cannot be right.

“Successive Conservative governments have sought to put a lid on that escalation.”

Her speech concentrated very much on the new build sector, emphasising the importance of using brown field sites and saying that “every blade of grass” must be looked at before it is changed.

She concluded that post-Brexit, Britain could be setting new standards for building homes, being bold and visionary, and setting the world alight “as we go forward with what we can do”.

There was nothing in her speech about second hand homes, estate agency, or the traditional private rented sector. She did however refer to Rent to Buy, plus Right to Buy, Right to Build, and Communities to Build.

While giving no details on any of these she said: “Because there are so many houses to build, we need to open up all of those possibilities.”

The bulk of the speech is below:

Now you don’t come into politics as a woman to do ‘housework’, but when the Prime Minister asks you to do so on behalf of your country you make an exception!

And maybe, just maybe Boris thought the ask was so big, building 300,000 homes each year by the mid-2020s, only a woman could get that much ‘housework’ done!

Whilst I might be the first woman in a decade to do this job, you all know there has been nine housing ministers in 9 years, so I want to say, that although we have been many in number, our collective commitment to deliver the homes this country needs has been constant and unwavering.

That working with yourselves, working with the industry, we have together delivered some significant achievements.

• We published the new National Planning Policy Framework scheme ironing out the planning process to help us deliver the houses we need. Our work on planning reform continues, as we focus on delivering an Accelerated Planning Green Paper.

• We’ve invested £9 billion in the Affordable Homes Programme and committed a further £2 billion in long-term partnerships that gives Housing Associations the certainty through funding up to 2029, nearly 10 years from now.

• And we have all focused on ensuring that our flagship Help to Buy programme has driven the supply in new homes and vitally, have helped a new generation of people onto the property ladder.

Progress together has been significant since 2010,

1.3 million more homes have been delivered.

430,000 affordable homes.

With 222,000 additional homes built in the last year alone.

Government is backing the industry with real investment and with interventions. And that is to make the dream of home ownership a reality. A dream that the vast majority of the public still have and continue to have.

And why is that? It’s about having a stake in society, it’s about having security, it is about aspiration, it is actually about freedom. It’s about financial security, and it’s about safety for you and your family and it provides people with a real stake in their community.

And whether you own your home or not, we all need a roof over our head.

I can say that because I’ve had many homes in my life, many experiences in my life.

I’ve been in a Barnardo’s home, I’ve been in my grandparents’ home, I’ve been in a council home, my first family owned home and now my own home.

Every single one holds an exceptional and significant experience for me.

So, providing these homes are essential; to provide homes for all people, from all walks of life, for the need they have at that moment in time.

In fact, it is a scandal, possibly the greatest scandal over the last 30 years that we’ve had a shortage in houses. And that has led, as we know, to a rise in renting and costs, and to a fall in home ownership which has destroyed the aspiration of a generation of working people.

We need to put that right.

And this government, with your help will put that right.

Since the mid-1990s, house prices have risen to 8 times, 10 times, 12 times, in some of the most expensive parts of this country 44 times the actual income of someone, that cannot be right.

Successive Conservative governments have sought to put a lid on that escalation, helping working people get on the housing ladder so they don’t have to dip into the bank of mum and dad.

It still isn’t enough, but we have cut Stamp Duty for 95% of first-time buyers and abolished it altogether for 80% of them.

We’ve introduced Help to Buy, loan and ISA, helping more than half a million have the security of home ownership.

And we’ve continued the hugely successful Right to Buy which has helped generations after generations onto the housing ladder.

But there is a limit to what government can do, for example, Help to Buy is precisely that. It is helping people to buy, it is not helping somebody to make a profit, it is not helping to increase the prices of property. It is about helping people to buy.

So this government will be vigilant about what is working, keeping an eye on our goal. That is a shared goal, helping people into a home and into home ownership.

Extending ownership schemes and building the homes the country needs.

And, we’re doing that straight away, we’ve looked at ownership models, so making Shared Ownership more accessible for working families. We’ve started that already so buyers can have a staircase of 1% increases rather than 10% leaps.

We’re going to look to expand Shared Ownership, supporting it in different ways, taking out what we hear to be the difficulties of it, the expense of it. It shouldn’t be unfair for those trying to get onto the housing market.

And Rent to Buy, so people can rent knowing that they are going to buy, knowing that they’ve got a bit of breathing space, maybe it’s in 5 years, maybe it’s in 10 years, but they will get to own that property – so they can plan, knowing they have the certainty of getting a deposit and getting that house.

And Right to Build, so many places around the world have far more people building their own homes, so we’re going to be there, whether its support for Right to Buy or Right to Build.

And also supporting communities, for Communities to Build.

Because there are so many houses to build – we need to open up all of those opportunities.

Too many people feel that vital link between hard work and owning their own home is broken. And when that link is severed, social mobility and opportunity falls away.

For so many people in our public sector, like our nurses and our teachers, like our police, owning their own home feels like the dream that has been taken away from them.

This is not right, they are the backbone of our country. They deserve a home of their own and they are looking to us to see what we can do. They are looking to us to fix it like we look to them to teach our kids like we look to them when we need healthcare, to look after us. They’re looking to us now to return that favour and look after them.

So, that’s 300,000 more homes a year to build. Each and every year.

Now we’re getting closer to that target – we’re building more, more than before. In fact last year we built more homes than in every year bar one in the last 31 years.

In Greater Manchester, the number of extra homes built is rising by more than 12%.

In Birmingham, it’s rising by 80%.

Only in London, [political content removed], have the number of new homes fallen.

While the trend is heading upwards, I’ve found there’s still serious barriers stopping that progress unnecessarily, and we need to understand what those barriers are, understand what is getting in our way so we can remove them.

We also need to focus on brownfield sites – what are we doing there? Are we doing enough there? Are we building enough homes there? Regeneration must be something we should be most proud of, turning round, I call it, unloved land.

And I know regeneration is a tough thing to do, I know that, that’s what my family’s business is in – demolition, excavation, regeneration, so we know that, and that is why government has put in billions of pounds in support to help with regeneration on brownfield sites and that is what we must do.

Because greenfield land, greenfield sites, should not be what we turn to, not what we look at first.

Every blade of grass must be looked at before it is changed – and it is only in the most exceptional circumstances we turn there and I can announce today councils will receive a share of nearly £2m to crackdown on illegal development, including in the green belt.

I’ll be putting money there, to help with enforcement officers, new technology and legal costs.

And alongside that, there will be a cash boost, from our department too, we are teaming up with the Royal Town Planning Institute to overhaul the National Enforcement Handbook. These are the things that we are offering to do, and can do.

And I want to look at those 300,000 new homes, in a different way now, because I see that as enormous, absolutely enormous.

I just think of the opportunities, enormous opportunities, exciting prospects and I’m talking in design and type.

I’m talking in diversity of homes.

I’m talking in technology of the home.

I’m talking environmentally of the home – carbon zero homes.

I’m taking creativity, in the style of the home, the type of living, reflecting the needs of people, whichever part of the housing ladder, young single people, divorcees, elderly, disabled people, families – all kinds of partnerships.

Each one of these needs a different type of home.

Are we really reflecting those different types of homes and needs?

I speak to young people across the country and they say these homes don’t really reflect what we’d like to see. Some want a family home, some want a bigger home, some want what they see as more like a future community – living in an exceptional space, maybe with a shared gym, maybe with a shared space downstairs, and within it an apartment as their own home, these would be much cheaper in price, a smaller apartment that they could own.

Surely between us, looking across what’s happening in the world, we can get the homes that different generations want.

And what about the jobs and the careers to build all these homes, we need to think about that. We need to be opening up this house building to SME’s, bringing them onboard, bringing it to communities, bringing it to the self-build and bringing in modern methods of construction.

We are now at a transformational turning point where we can make homes by manufacturing them at a very high specification.

Cars, over the years, have gone smarter, faster, sleeker, leaner.

Phones are no longer about talking to one another, they are computers in your pocket, connecting you with the world.

TV’s are bigger, are flatter, are high definition.

Our houses have to be exactly the same, replicate this change, so we can build them faster, sleeker, environmentally friendlier, cheaper and what people want.

Because that is what it’s about, it is about the customer. What do they want?

And that is what we’ve got to be on the side of the person who needs that home, who knows they are putting pretty much all the money they earn into that home, and so it has to be what they want, and not what they are given and just have to accept!

And, we are going to strengthen up home owner’s rights as well, as we consult on a future home owners Ombudsman.

Because now, (as we leave the E.U. and set about building 300,000 homes a year) we could become global leaders in the world of house building, of high end engineering, manufacturing, 3D specification, architecture and traditional build too.

And with that, I see clusters of excellence across the country, of where modular building is being developed – in the North East, Yorkshire, the North West, – I see in my mind’s eye, just like you see homes in your mind’s eye, I see, a Centre of Construction Excellence being established in the North of the country, combining all these things, so we can have a newly found industry. You’re not just living in a home, you can prosper from having a job in creating those homes, when we are building at such a significant scale and pace, the career opportunities are huge.

And we can set new housing standards for the rest of the world.

You talked about Brexit before because yes, we are moving into a world post the EU. With the government’s help we are getting ready for Brexit, helping UK businesses get geared up for the challenges and opportunities ahead. We will be carrying over EU product requirements as valid for sale, to ensure smooth transition for the construction industry.

And we’re making sure we’ve got the skills here in the UK to deliver what we need for that next generation of homes, through our technical hubs, through our, as I see it, Centre of Excellence, which will be industry led, which can deliver training, right up to high end degree apprenticeships.

So we will be bold, we will be visionary, we will be setting the world alight as we go forward with what we can do. I remember somebody said to me, which made such a huge impact on me as a child, you know everything you see, was created within someone’s mind, it never existed until somebody thought of it and then thought of a way to do it.

You are those people.

You are those architects, those visionaries, who set the scene.

Together we will do it.

We will do it together, and please know, the Government will support you.

We have supported you.

Together we have to tackle this Great British housing building problem.


Source: Property Industry Eye