The Government has been trailing the fact that they will finally publish their delayed national housing strategy next week. It is likely to be launched by David Cameron, which at least shows that the issue is rising up the political agenda.
The spin so far is that the strategy will be announced with a little bit of new money for housebuilding. Any boost will be welcome, but given that the coalition started with a 60% cut in the housing programme, it will just be a small offset. There will also be some details about how the revised right to buy will work and whether, and how, the capital receipts might be used. There has also been some interesting spin that there might be proposals for a bit of ‘light touch’ regulation to the private rented sector.
New money, reinvesting receipts, and PRS regulation would all be significant U turns from the Government. But if it is to be a genuine housing strategy, there are bigger issues at stake. A strategy should be needs-led, with a thorough-going analysis of the housing requirements of the country leading to detailed policies which will impact on those needs over time. I suspect this strategy will be policy-led, by which I mean that they will justify the policies they have already adopted and gloss over the needs that they are not interested in meeting.
Here are 10 questions for the Government, questions that I think the strategy must address if it is to be of any value at all.
- Will there be a full assessment of how many homes are needed in England over the next 20 years and how and where they will be provided, with a proper emphasis on the differences between regions?
- What approach will they take to long term property and land values, the underlying but fundamental issue in the housing market?
- Will there be a strategy for reforming taxation and subsidy across tenures in housing both to encourage investment in all sectors and the greening of all our homes and to discourage wasteful over-consumption?
- What will they do to provide homes to people on the lowest incomes, whether in or out of work, who cannot afford ‘affordable rents’, private rents, or home ownership?
- Will they be frank about their policy of virtually ending new build for social rent and will they phase out security of tenure and ‘target rents’ for existing social rented housing?
- How will they ensure that the private rented sector is modernised and joins the rest of the economy in the 21st century with a clear set of rights and responsibilities for landlords and tenants based on consumer protection principles?
- Given that they set a target for reducing the housing benefit bill, what will they do next to achieve the cuts given that many of their policies are leading to increases in HB costs not reductions?
- How will they respond strategically to the rapid rise in homelessness that has taken place over the last year?
- Will there be a real policy to tackle overcrowding or just more of the same in punishing underoccupiers in the rented sectors?
- How will they help first-time buyers and in particular will they boost the supply of mortgages and support new deposit protection schemes?
I fear we will have many pages of Pickles prejudices and Shapps spin, But it will be interesting to judge whether there is a strategic attempt to address needs – or more of the same.