Sex, Brexit, posh boys…oh, and some housebuilding. Possibly


In today’s budget Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has an opportunity to do something great for Britain.

Forget the minor sex squabbles, the Tory party in-fighting and the boring Brexit bumbling – here’s a chance to make a real difference to millions of peoples’ lives all over the UK.

By pledging real cash to address one of the most serious social issues of our time, Hammond can go down in history as a chancellor who did make a difference.

If he backs up his vow to build 300,000 homes a year, as Tim Shipman, political editor of the Sunday Times, reported this weekend, and provides the funds to do it then the dream of home ownership for the many could begin to turn back the rental tide washing over our towns and cities engulfing our young population.

In shots aimed at volume housebuilders, banks and land-bankers, Hammond pledged: “There will be some strategic measures that look 20, 30 years into the future to secure a . . . supply of future housing and there will be shorter-term intervention measures which use money, powers and planning to intervene to get things done and make a difference over the next few years.

“We will not be afraid to intervene to do whatever it takes to close the gap. If it’s infrastructure that’s needed to unlock housing, we’ll build the infrastructure. If it’s financial viability that’s needed, we will intervene to remediate sites and make otherwise marginally non-viable sites viable.

“We’ve got to make sure our banks are willing to lend to small housebuilders and if necessary we will stand behind that lending.”

In Preston, we can see the nation’s housing problems in microcosm. Although city centre land, in particular, is relatively affordable, too much of it is in the ownership of people who have either unrealistic valuations or are simply content to leave buildings and land vacant and rotting into the future.

These people are taking the chancellor’s 20 to 30 year vision and wrapping it in cobwebs.

Even with sites, the cost of building good quality new homes is pretty much the same in Preston as it is in central Manchester or Alderley Edge – but the price difference you can sell the homes for is staggering.

Profit for the housebuilder and their financial backers matters and only the brave will test a market that seems to favour everyone other than those who take the plunge first.

The chancellor told the Sunday Times he will unveil billions of pounds of extra investment, plus new powers and planning rules to ensure construction firms start building on sites that already have planning permission.

Hammond said the government would stage an “intervention” because the market for developed land “is broken” and he vowed to do “whatever it takes” to get builders building and pledged that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

The chancellor is set to:

  •  Launch an inquiry into “housebuilders land banking, speculators hoarding land and local authorities blocking development” to report next spring
  •  Build new roads to unlock new land for housing
  •  Pay to clean up polluted industrial sites for housebuilding
  •  Get town hall chiefs to allocate small pockets of land for development by small builders
  •  Guarantee loans by banks to small housebuilders

While 217,000 new homes were built last year, Hammond said: “I’m clear that we need to get to 300,000 units a year if we are going to start to tackle the affordability problem, with the additions coming in areas of high demand.”

Senior government sources say Hammond will find about £5bn for housing schemes and underwrite loans worth tens of billions more.

As we approach the end of 2017, it is clearer than ever that Hammond’s ‘intervention’ is needed in cities like Preston with utmost urgency.

Councils have to be given the tools and the money to do this now – not in a year or five years’ time.

There are too few good quality city centre housing schemes – hardly any, in fact – being proposed in Preston and that’s a scandal.

Preston-based builders such as Eric Wright (whose chairman Jim Carter is also in charge of the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal) are even setting up site offices in Ancoats in Manchester to run the housing schemes they are building there.

The green belt, especially to the north of the city and on the fringes of Longridge, is disappearing under the weight of thousands of new homes.

But, you’ll look in vain for a crane on the city centre skyline.

If tomorrow’s budget can do anything to divert headlines away from sex, Brexit and posh boys beating each other up, then Hammond will have done his country a service.

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Neil Thornton

Neil Thornton

Director at Thornton Media
Neil Thornton is an award-winning writer and journalist who is an expert in property, housing, architecture and design.

He has been at the forefront of the UK property scene for 15 years and has been published in major newspapers, magazines and influential websites around the world.
Neil Thornton

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