Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne's Help-to-Buy and other housing budget announcements are little more than empty rhetoric

Russell Quirk
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Conservative Help to Buy Mortgage Scheme Is Brought Forward
The government could be making a real step towards addressing the housing deficit (Source: Getty)

George Osborne’s big news today was the announcement that the government “chooses to build” and will double the housing budget to £2bn, reforming the housing system and pumping £7bn into building 400,000 more affordable homes.

Described as "the biggest affordable housebuilding programme since the 1970s", it's great news for those in desperate need of affordable housing. However when this talk amounts to little else than rhetoric, as it so often does, it will come as little comfort to the British public.

Who can blame them when this government is responsible for the lowest level of house building in the last six years.

Read more: Everything the chancellor announced today from Help-to-Buy- to potholes

The average UK house price has already increased by 15 per cent since 2010 and if the government hadn’t overseen such a hike in house prices in the first place, then the burden of getting on the property ladder would not be quite so heavy for first time buyers today.

But it is and Osborne clearly believes Help-to-Buy is part of the ticket out of Britain’s housing crisis.

The government will continue flogging that particular dead horse, promising £4bn to build 135,000 shared ownership homes for households under £80,000 (£90,000 in London).

Read more: Stamp duty changes may be the final straw for landlords

I question how much good this will do and in fact, how many of these transactions will actually materialise. So far the scheme has helped just 70,000 homeowners in the last two years, not even four per cent of the 2.4 million property transactions by British home-buyers in the same time period.

Osborne has also announced a new ‘London Help-to-Buy’ scheme, offering help for those with a five per cent mortgage deposit. Given that this translates to a deposit of £25,000 on the average London house price, I can’t imagine it will help too many who are struggling to get on the ladder in the first place.

Yes the wage on offer in London may exceed that of the rest of the nation, but so does the cost of living and so the requirement of £25,000 could really be too much to ask for many.

There are other options to helping those that can’t get on the property ladder.

The government and local government seems to be clinging to more than 180,000 publicly owned sites, however this latest announcement to allow councils to keep 100 per cent of the sale proceeds for land they own, in order to pump it back into improving better local services, should hopefully help address the issue of housing supply at a council level.

By re-generating these sites and insisting that they are put to developable use, the government could make a real step towards addressing the housing deficit, whilst helping address the availability of affordable housing at the same time.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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