Was the Autumn Statement a missed opportunity to tackle Britain’s housing crisis?

Jeremy Leaf and Ben Southwood
London homes
Removal of height restrictions should enable the construction of more of the homes people actually like (Source: Getty)

Jeremy Leaf, a former RICS residential chairman, says Yes.

As expected, the chancellor’s speech contained no reversal of stamp duty changes, withdrawal of mortgage interest relief proposals for landlords, or assistance for downsizers. This was despite the potential benefits for the wider economy of lower taxes, greater job mobility and more housebuilding.

No measures were introduced to improve planning by, for example, outsourcing conditions on consents, meeting the provision of infrastructure or connection of utilities.

We look forward to the housing white paper, but it is unlikely to materialise before early 2017. There was no time frame for the banning of lettings’ agents fees, and the costs of obtaining credit and reference checks as well as inventories are likely to be reflected in higher rents and commissions.

Along with various tax and legal obligations brought in over the past year, this may persuade landlords to sell, or not expand their portfolios. And it will do nothing to improve the supply of affordable homes to rent, or tackle landlords and agents operating illegally.

Ben Southwood, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, says No.

Far from missing an opportunity, the housing white paper Philip Hammond boosted in his Autumn Statement offers the best opportunity so far for solving Britain’s housing crisis.

The problem is especially acute in innovative, booming cities like London, Manchester and Oxford. High rents and mortgage payments are caused by a lack of housing supply, in turn driven by some of the tightest restrictions on construction, extension and redevelopment in the world.

So far, governments have simply come up with foolhardy bungs like Help to Buy – a raft of schemes which add to demand without loosening supply.

This time, the government plans to let houses build upwards, to encourage Georgian-style terraces and Victorian-style mansion blocks – more of the housing people like. This can be done so densely that London could fit in around triple its current population without a single tower.

We can always hope for more, but now we really have a housing policy to be excited about.

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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