As the temporarily restored bongs of Big Ben sound at midnight on 31 December, those in the property sector could be forgiven for letting out a little sigh of relief at the passing of yet another year in which the government has resolutely failed to solve the housing crisis.
Two stories today illustrate how severe the crisis still is. Firstly, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has suggested 2018 may be the first time in five years that the number of homes bought and sold falls below 1.2m.
Secondly, research by estate agent James Pendleton has found in eight of London’s 33 boroughs, not a single home on sale qualifies for the government’s Help to Buy scheme. In other words, there are no new builds worth less than £600,000 up for sale in Camden, Hackney, Hammersmith, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Tower Hamlets or Westminster. Across the whole of the capital, just 603 homes qualify for the scheme. This is desperate.
As the housing crisis has escalated, the government has taken baby steps, cutting stamp duty for first-time buyers and extending Help to Buy: both moves are regarded by those in the sector as being more likely to boost demand, rather than increase supply.
A glimmer of hope lies in communities secretary Sajid Javid, whose suggestion the government might take advantage of low interest rates and borrow to fund the infrastructure needed to increase the supply of new homes was shut down by chancellor Philip Hammond almost as soon as he made it in October.
Javid is understood to be continuing his crusade to radically increase the number of new homes available by exploring ways to build on the green belt, as well as finding innovative new places in the capital to build, such as over railway lines.
This year, housebuilding policy has been an uncomfortable three-way compromise between Theresa May, seen as “Queen Nimby” by her critics; Hammond, who prefers to tinker, and Javid, whose ideas may be radical, but are also the most likely to end up with bricks on the ground.
Who will win out? Let’s hope for a Javid victory. 2018 must be the year of a housing revolution.