More than 20 top bosses from an array of housebuilders, investors, housing associations and local authorities met Prime Minister Theresa May last Tuesday, supposedly “to discuss a step change in the delivery of new homes”.
Downing Street’s briefing after the event was somewhat high on rhetoric (“for too many people, home ownership has moved increasingly out of reach...”) and low on detail.
Indeed it was distinctly May-esque, boasting of the PM’s recent, misguided decision to push another £10bn of monetary doping into the so-called help to buy scheme, while tacitly shifting blame for the UK’s pitifully weak supply of new housing away from the government (the PM’s plans “mean developers, big and small, local authorities and housing associations all stepping up to play their part”, it said, along with a jibe about unbuilt homes in areas where planing permission has been granted).
Sajid Javid, the secretary of state responsible for housebuilding, was present at the meeting yet appears to have been a peripheral figure. Perhaps he was saving the fun stuff for the weekend.
Javid dominated the airwaves yesterday, first through his announcement of an eight-week review into the process by which we buy and sell our homes, and secondly with an eyebrow-raising hint that the government could borrow billions of pounds to spend on a building boom.
While the maligned phenomenon of “gazumping” ensures more attention was paid to the eight-week review, the latter comment could turn out to be even more significant.
Some economists have been arguing for years that Britain should have taken advantage of rock-bottom interest rates to trigger a much-needed surge in housebuilding in the period following the recent great recession.
At City A.M. we prefer policies that unleash private sector innovation, rather than extending the reach of the state. However, a realistic view of the world in which we live points to some areas inherently entangled with government – infrastructure, for example.
If Javid can do anything to lift the supply of homes in parts of the country where demand is highest, he will deserve enormous credit.