Oh no I’m missing Grant Shapps already. Instead of the great (mis)communicator we have had to rely this morning on Nick Clegg to tell us about the Government’s latest housing announcement. So he managed to tell us on BBC Breakfast that the right to build an extension without planning permission will be increased from 3 metres to ‘more than 3 metres’. Great. Cameron was equally unintelligible on ITV’s Daybreak muttering something indecipherable about council houses, as if he knew what one was.
As of 9.30am this morning there was no hard information about any of the proposals on CLG or No 10 websites. So all we have to go on is pre-spin. My guess is that the planning changes will lead to a hardly noticeable increase in total construction activity but lots of complaints about bigger extensions, disappearing suburban gardens and, as a couple of tweeters have already pointed out, some extra beds in sheds and rooms added to existing HMOs.
The implementation of the Montague report’s recommendation that affordable housing requirements should be dropped from private rented developments will mean that the price of getting more private renting will be fewer affordable homes. It is also another step in the abandonment of mixed communities as a policy objective. There has been a hint of more money for affordable housing to compensate but we will have to see if this is a partial conversion to Keynesianism and whether any extra money will be for unaffordable ‘affordable rent’ rather than the social rented homes that are needed most.
The most interesting idea is probably the government ‘guarantee’ for £40bn of infrastructure and £10bn of housebuilding. Clever people who know these things say that measures like these, if they lead to significantly cheaper borrowing by housing associations, could help compensate for the loss of grant since the Coalition came to power and could have a real impact on associations’ ability to finance development. We need to see more detail and to know how the Treasury will account for these guarantees. They used to take the view that the cost of guarantees should be included in the accounts as if the guarantee had been used, defeating the purpose of the exercise.
There is encouragement to be had from these new policies. The penny seems to be dropping that housebuilding could be the most effective way of getting economic growth moving. Whether or whether not these initiatives prove to be worthwhile, the political argument has moved on to more fertile ground. If we are not yet onto Plan B, at least Plan A is on its deathbed.