Eric Ollerenshaw: Conservatives must be bolder on housing policy – and in taking credit for what is being achieving

There’s a development of 5,000 new homes near where I live. The sign board doesn’t mention the large Government grant.

Eric Ollerenshaw OBE was the Member of Parliament for Lancaster and Fleetwood from 2010 to 2015.

There is something like an old adage that once an MP becomes a Minister, they forget the problems they came into politics to solve – and too easily become the mouthpieces of why the solutions are too problematic..

Not that I would dream of thinking this has affected any of my former colleagues elected in 2010, many of whom I believe shared a passion, which I hope is still there, to free up people’s lives and opportunities. To be fair, all new ministers have to face that built-in resistance to change that is part and parcel of large bureaucracies, public or commercial. At the same time, today’s particular set of Ministers have had the Brexit planning process affecting their workloads. The palpable instability it has brought to Parliamentary and Party management must also have added to the problems of Ministerial planning and policy development, let alone in some key ministries, the change and change about of the actual person who is Minister. However, it still has to be said, to have had eight housing ministers in eight years is stretching credibility, even with the above factors, a little bit too far. And I would add to that – particularly in Conservative Governments.

From Harold Macmillan in the 1950s, providing the new houses the country was desperate for after the War, to the iconic “Right to Buy” of Mrs Thatcher’s governments, it was the Conservatives who have seen homes and a “property-owning democracy” as crucial to giving people one of the essentials of human life while at the same time providing an individual stake and responsibility in their own country. It could be argued that these historical housing reforms were a crucial part in delivering both votes and long-term support for Conservative Governments and their wider economic reform agendas. Indeed, it has also been commented on before, that the decline in the last 20 years of the ability by 20-year olds and 30-year olds to buy their own properties has had a direct impact on the level of Conservative support in those age groups. There was nothing like taking on the first mortgage to really focus the mind on the critical issues of national debt and interest rates levels and consequently on the Party that has always focused on policies to manage those exact issues.

To be fair though, we introduced ‘Help to Buy’ in 2013 and in the 2015 General Election we fought on extending ‘Right to Buy’ to Housing Association tenants while there is also ‘Support for Mortgage Interest’ – all good policies but nothing as electrifying as the hundreds of thousands of new homes Macmillan pushed through or the hundred of thousands of new property owners Margaret Thatcher created.

We are certainly beginning to see lots of new properties being built, whether it be the new developments on the edges of many of our villages and smaller towns, or the vast number of high-rise glass palaces of new flats (or should I say apartments?) in our large cities, alongside some fantastic conversions of old industrial and office buildings, again mainly in our larger cities. Something is happening. Though when I walk past a vast development of nearly 5,000 new properties near where I live, according to the signboard it is all down to the local Council (Labour), the local Mayor (Labour), a housing association, and a developer – no mention of the large Government grant to that local Council and local Mayor. Sorry this might seem petty in an article about policy, but as an activist who has always believed in taking the message to the doorstep, it doesn’t half irritate that the thousands who walk past those signboards are being given a permanent and biased message – surely some part of the Government bureaucracy could be responsible for ensuring a balanced message on the signboards of major capital schemes funded by Government?

Or let’s take a bigger issue, those thousands of new flats mainly in our major conurbations, some on buy to let it is true and therefore rented, but however bought, are bought on leasehold. This peculiar English form of leasehold that does not give real ownership and something that most people who buy this way never fully realise the drawbacks or the long-term implications on their security of tenure, until they have acquired their lease. Just consider that in all those shiny new flats and conversions, we are creating thousands of new leaseholders to the extent that in London now, according to some figures, a third to a half of home ownership is now leasehold, while it is reaching nearly half in Manchester. One in five properties now across the country are leasehold and growing.

There was a time when we thought leasehold would simply whither way, and to be honest, there can be no excuse for the 1.2 million individual houses or more which are leasehold, mostly brand-new properties facing the scandal of freeholds sold on to Companies only interested in raising cash from increased ground rents and service charges – hardly an advert for a property-owning democracy. As I understand it, the Government is quite rightly banning it for new developments since 2017 but still leaving the question remaining of those already caught in the trap before 2017.

To be fair, the Law Commission has been asked by the Government to report this year on making it simpler, easier, quicker, and more cost-effective for leaseholders to extend their leases when they near the end or to buy the freehold and to actually examine options to reduce the price payable. In my mind, this has the potential to be the next big Conservative housing revolution – that is, of course, if we still see ourselves as the Party of a “property owning democracy”. This could be something really positive to offer to nearly one in five homeowners across the country. Just think of it for a moment – this could also be a positive and a distinct message to allow us entry into those new tall glass palaces in our big city centres with a policy that is consistent with the best traditions of our Party.

But the issue remains as to whether we have Ministers who are bold enough to remember they are still politicians and long enough in post to grasp the nettle of this next great housing reform. When the Law Commission reports this year, will we have ministers willing to grasp a radical agenda and MPs willing to support it through Parliament against the large commercial property interests?

Well, it looks hopeful, given that our ministers have at least given the steer to the Law Commission to do something better in the interests of all leaseholders. But what I cannot understand is why this isn’t available now to sell on the doorsteps and the intercoms in those important local elections in May this year and next year?

Before ministers quite rightly shout that they cannot make actual commitments before consultation reports are received and white papers issued, perhaps as Conservative politicians they could realise that the mere fact they recognise the problems and are considering the means to address them, is important to the electorate. So, let’s have more of this out there in Government statements, ministerial speeches, and Party Literature, because as far as I can see, those significant new leaseholders across the country have no idea a Conservative Government actually understands their situation and is actively looking for solutions!

Nick Hargrave: The capitalism of the future demands a bigger role for the state

Its muscular power is needed to boost share ownership, build houses and tax wealth rather than income. And let’s rule out a No Deal Brexit.

Nick Hargrave is a former Downing Street Special adviser where he worked for both David Cameron and Theresa May. He now works for Portland, the communications consultancy.

Philip Hammond’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference last October is unlikely to be remembered as a rhetorical classic. But it contains within it an important insight for the political fortunes of the Conservative Party and the long-term prosperity of our country.

Speaking to a less than packed hall, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told delegates that Conservatives of the future must:

“Harness the power of the market economy, taking a model which has evolved continuously down the ages, so that the capitalism of the twenty-first century looks nothing remotely like that of the nineteenth – and adapt it once again to speak to the values of a new generation.”

Hammond was speaking to a truth that Conservatives sometimes forget. Capitalism is not a static construct held in aspic. It is an economic system which flexes to meet the challenges of its time – and in doing so renews its mandate from one generation to the next.

This flexible conception of capitalism has been seen in the differing approaches of Conservative governments since the Second World War.

In the 1950s and 1960s, after a landslide defeat in 1945, our party accepted a greater role for state involvement in the running of the economy; spurred on by a gradual realisation that the laissez-faire approach of the 1930s had been an opportunity lost.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Margaret Thatcher burst onto the scene with an articulation of capitalism that was more libertarian and evangelical about the merits of free enterprise – in keeping with its time and a reaction to the drift and decline inherent in state involvement going too far.

The 1990s and 2000s saw the pendulum swing the other way, and voters demand a gentler articulation of the harder-edged approach of the 1980s – with support for a minimum wage, windfall taxes and more investment in the public realm. On this occasion, our party failed to meet this challenge, clinging doggedly to our post event conception of Thatcherism, and paid an electoral price.

The lesson of history is clear. When Conservatives adapt to generational calls for change on our political economy they prosper and own the terms of debate; more than capable of beating a Labour Party whose competence is usually doubted. When they fail to acknowledge the call for change they lose – and only regain power after a period of painful reflection.

If the events of the past couple of years have taught us anything, it is time for Conservative politicians to once again come up with a coherent answer for how capitalism can renew its generational mandate. Specifically, how it can materially improve the British people’s living standards in an economy that is undergoing a technological transformation; one that is increasingly global, that’s conducted online, that’s moving at pace to automation – and which is increasingly flexible in its conception of the nature of work.

It’s this transformation which is fuelling the rise of identity politics in our country – which for all its short-term attractions is unlikely to end well. It’s fuelling divisions between the upwardly mobile and the educated in our vibrant urban centres who are benefitting from this change – and the many in our towns and communities who feel left behind. Between a younger generation which is finding it hard to amass capital – and an older generation who have assets that have appreciated over the years.  It’s why a lot of public and private polling out there indicates that people feel the country is moving in the wrong direction domestically. And it’s why the main thing keeping the current Conservative voting coalition together is the illusory tiger of a Brexit which can never meet the hype – and one suspects will eventually end in disappointment.

So what’s the real answer for Conservatives in how we reinvigorate capitalism in a way that is relevant for the 2020s and beyond – and in the process renew our own mandate to govern? This could be the subject of several more articles, but here are a few core thoughts as follows:

  • First, in politics you must get the tone and definition right before you get into the policy weeds. The platform must feel upbeat, inclusive, and focussed on the guiding prism of a better future for us all to share. Optimism is infectious. This is where I think in hindsight Theresa May got the balance wrong during the period 2016-17.  The framing of the ‘privileged few’ may have been tactically popular, but it was caricatured and created expectations of a reckoning with business that was self-defeating and ceded political space to Jeremy Corbyn. It’s much easier to have difficult conversations with businesses about their responsibilities in the modern economy if you have an overall macro-message that is supportive. 70 per cent carrot and 30 per cent stick feels about right.
  • Second, I think we are going to have come to terms with a more muscular and high spending state over the next 20 years. Critically, that spending and guiding hand must be prioritised on investment in the future rather than pumping cash hand over fist into resource spending. In Treasury, speak this means more ambitious capital programmes than currently on R&D and science, digital infrastructure and transport. Always remember that the jobs, wealth and economic security of 25 years’ time will come from ideas that we cannot even conceive of yet.
  • Third, people have to feel confident they are benefitting from the system. Rather than using Labour language of ‘fixing a broken market’, focus instead on the positive articulation of what a muscular state can do to promote the holding of capital. Spend much, much more on state-backed programmes to build houses, remodel the corporate tax system with the strategic goal of incentivising employee share ownership – and turbocharge the somewhat limp National Retraining Scheme into a massive endeavour for all people in industries at risk of automation.
  • Fourth, we need to be able to pay for this and remain fiscally credible. There is no perfect way to do this but a shift towards wealth over income taxes is broadly the right way to go. This is hard but inevitable. Most realistically this can only come from a new leader at the height of their political powers.
  • Fifth, there is the question of how we maintain our political definition with Labour. I would strongly suggest we do not fall back into an ideological debate about libertarianism versus socialism (if put like that, Britain over the next 20 years is going to go for the latter). Focus instead on the values and language of economic competence and strong leadership, brought to life in the programme above, and the rest flows from there. With the current Labour frontbench this task is inordinately easier than if we were up against a centre-left leadership.
  • Finally, whatever you do – don’t countenance a ‘no deal’ Brexit. It will detract focus from this generationally important task – and will lead to many more years of austerity. This cannot be emphasised enough.

25 questions about (another) early general election – and the horror show it could be for the Conservatives

The more one thinks about it, the more problematic one becomes.

I wrote in the Times last August about Brexit that “the most likely cathartic event is neither a new prime minister nor a second referendum but a general election”.  Of which there is talk again in the Westminster Village.  William Hague is reportedly saying that the media is underestimating the chances of a poll.

As Mark Wallace points out, the former Foreign Secretary pressed for an election before Theresa May obtained one in 2017.  We know how that turned out.

For the record, this site believed that she’d increase her majority, once she called it.  But we were very dubious about her calling the poll in the first place.  We take the same view now (as may Hague).  For although an election could become unavoidable before too long, believing that one could happen isn’t the same as thinking it should happen.  Here are some questions that help illustrate why.

  • What would the manifesto say about Brexit?
  • If it repackaged Theresa May’s deal, how would Conservative MPs who believe that No Deal is now inevitable, or back Norway Plus, or a Canada-type deal, or a second referendum, respond?
  • If it didn’t propose ruling out No Deal, what would the Cabinet group headed by Philip Hammond say and do?
  • If it did rule out No Deal, what would the Cabinet members who backed Leave in the EU referendum, plus Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt, do?
  • Would the manifesto rule out extending Article 50?
  • How would May go about seeking to prevent a 1997-election type revolt – that time round, it was about ruling out joining the Euro – from Leavers?  Would she be prepared to bar the candidacies of hardline pro-Leave MPs?
  • By the same token, would she be prepared to bar the candidacies of their pro-Remain equivalents?
  • How would the Party handle Associations seeking to deselect their MPs?
  • What would the manifesto say about everything else bar Brexit?  The spending review?  Tax?  Social care?  Universal Credit?  Reducing net migration “to the tens of thousands”?  Health and food and lifestyle?  Selective schools?  Knife crime?  The pursuit of British servicemen through the courts?  Tuition fees?  Home ownership? HS2?  And what would it say about how Britain should be different after Brexit?
  • In particular, what would it say about Scotland, and what role would Ruth Davidson and/or Scottish Conservative MPs have in drawing up the contents, if any, especially about fishing?
  • What’s to stop the election turning into one on other matters than Brexit entirely, as the last one did?
  • Would the Party run candidates against the DUP in Northern Ireland?
  • Who would run the manifesto process – since Chris Skidmore, who was in charge of the Party’s policy review, has now been made a Minister and not replaced?
  • Would the Pickles review recommendations for drawing up the next Conservative manifesto be implemented – in other words, would senior Ministers play a major part in overseeing it?
  • Who would write it?
  • Since successive Party leaders have outsourced the running of recent election campaigns, who would run this one?  (Labour’s team from last time round would presumably remain much the same.)
  • Since Lynton Crosby is reported to be advising Boris Johnson, how could he return to CCHQ to spearhead a campaign?
  • Would such a solution be desirable anyway, given the Crosby/Textor/Messina contribution to the failure of the last campaign?
  • Even if it was, would Crosby accept this poisoned chalice in any event?
  • And why would anyone else do so, either – such as James Kanagasooriam?  Dominic Cummings?  (Who wouldn’t be asked anyway.)
  • In the absence of anyone else, has CCHQ really got the capacity to run an election campaign in-house, especially at almost no notice?
  • Given almost no notice, is CCHQ in a position to identify the right target seats?
  • If it can, doesn’t it need an equivalent of Team 2015 to help campaign in them and canvass them?  (And there isn’t one.)
  • Even if there was one, is the prospect of a Corbyn Government enough to get Party activists out campaigning, or will disillusion with the May Government hold them back?
  • What’s the answer to the same question when applied to donors?

And that’s all more or less off the top of my head.  There will be many more questions and better ones too.

P.S: And before you ask, the Fixed Terms Parliament Act isn’t an insuperable barrier to an election, as the events of 2017 proved.

P.P.S: The Prime Minister has of course promised recently, as before the 2017 poll, that she definitely won’t seek one…

Robert Halfon: Now is the time for Common Market 2.0, and an EFTA-type plan for Brexit

Plus: We must be the Party for social housing as well as home ownership. And: why don’t we trumpet our history of social reform?

Common Market 2.0 deliver can Brexit before 29 March

Whilst I can understand that there are different views about the future of Europe, and that some prefer No Deal, I am mystified why some regard Common Market 2.0 as a retreat from Brexit. This is far from the case.

 For years, many Eurosceptics would have been very happy to see Britain in an EFTA-style relationship with Europe rather than be a member of the EU. Such an arrangement, advocated by Brexiteers in the past, would gets Britain out of the CAP and CFP.

Common Market 2.0 also means an end to Britain being subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court, and brings us out of political union. All these things were what many Leavers felt was most objectionable about membership of the EU.

The plan also safeguards jobs and ensures stability for business and our economy through membership of the Single Market. But members have far more powers to derogate from it (Norway obtained derogations from 55 proposed Single Market laws and Iceland from 349 legal acts).

It would also mean that we continue to be a part of an alliance of democracies – it would strengthen EFTA – which is important for geo-politics and would help to build up a useful counterweight to the EU.

On freedom of movement, under Common Market 2.0, there are significant safeguarding measures that place us in a far stronger position of power to stop freedom of movement in the event of “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectoral or regional nature liable to persist”.

Financial contributions to Common Market 2.0 would also be significantly lower than under our payments to EU budgets – well south of £5 billion per annum. We would simply pay for what we participate in – membership, joint programmes, schemes and agencies and, on a “goodwill” basis, the EEA Voluntary Grants scheme.

All this means that we could take back control of our finances and can afford to invest in what matters most domestically – the NHS, policing, schools and community. 

Significantly, unlike the other proposals, Common Market 2.0 would enable us to deliver on Brexit by the end of March. We would scrap the Political Declaration, instead outlining Common Market 2.0 as the basis for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

The transition period would give us the time we need to finalise and implement the agreement with the EU and EFTA states. This would means that the UK would leave the EU on the 29th March – with no extension of Article 50 necessary.

Common Market 2.0 is an agreement that delivers on the vote of the people, takes back control of our key institutions, ensures a good, free trading agreement with the rest of Europe. All this can be achieved without the need for the Northern Ireland backstop to be activated or weakening the Union.

Bleak House

We have a housing crisis in this country. Whilst I am passionately in favour of the Right to Buy and Help to Buy schemes, there is so much more we must do to help families on low incomes.

It’s worth remembering that one in four families have less than £95 in savings, and that the idea of affording a deposit is just for the birds. 682,000 households live in overcrowded accommodation and 1.2 million households are currently on the waiting list for social housing.

Millions more are struggling with extortionately priced private-rented accommodation, with one in five private renters cutting back on food to pay the rent. Many of these families simply cannot afford rent on their wages, costing the taxpayer £23 billion to cover the 27 per cent of private renters receiving housing benefits.

If we want to both ensure a good quality of life for millions of our fellow countrymen and women ,and save the taxpayer billions on the housing benefit bill, we need as much radical action on social and affordable housing as we do for those who want to buy their first home.

This is why the reforms set out by Jim O’Neill in Shelter’s new social housing commission is something that Secretaries of State, such as James Brokenshire, should be listening to. They propose 3.1 million more social homes, costing £10.7 billion a year, but which in reality, would be reduced to £3.8 billion with savings in benefits, and returns to the Government arising from the knock-on economic benefits across the economy.

The housing situation in our country is bleak. We must be the Party of home ownership but we must also be the Party for affordable and social housing. Whether these proposals are adopted or not, the Government has got to come up with a solution that solves our social housing crisis in our country.

The Party of social good

There is an umbilical cord between the British people and the NHS. It was extraordinary and wonderful to see two days of wall-to-wall coverage showing Government financial support for our NHS and its Long-Term Plan. It is an important tribute to Matt Hancock and Jeremy Hunt.

Even better, Hancock reminded the House in his statement that it was a Conservative, the Sir Henry Willink, who first put forward proposals for a NHS and, whilst built by a Labour Government, it is clearly the Conservatives who pioneered the idea of health care free at the point of access.

Matt’s mention of a Conservative creating major social justice reform is something that all Conservatives should be doing all the time. Why on earth do Conservatives not do more in Parliament, speeches, articles and conversations, to remind the public that, so often, in the history of our country, it has been  Conservatives at the forefront of groundbreaking social reform in our country? Whether that was  Wilberforce and slavery, Disraeli and the condition of working people, Macmillan and affordable housing, Thatcher and the Right to Buy, Osborne and the National Living Wage.

Labour mention their historic record on social justice time and time again. It’s time we did so.

There are signs of modest progress in increasing the housing supply

Probably enough is being done to maintain the status quo. The problem is that for millions of people aiming for home ownership, that is pretty dire.

Last week there was a piece of good news for the Government that you might have missed:

“Annual housing supply in England amounted to 222,190 net additional dwellings in 2017-18, up two per cent on 2016- 17.”

So that hits the (pretty arbitrary) target of 200,000 a year, set by Brandon Lewis when he was Housing Minister in 2015, to get to a million more homes by 2020.

These are new homes. But not all are built from scratch – some are converted from buildings that had been used for something else:

“The 222,190 net additions in 2017-18 resulted from 195,290 new build homes, 29,720 gains from change of use between non-domestic and residential, 4,550 from conversions between houses and flats and 680 other gains (caravans, houseboats etc.), offset by 8,050 demolitions.”

On the other hand, various claims have been put out that we “need” more than 200,000 extra homes a year.

When Sajid Javid was the Communities and Local Government Secretary, in 2016, he said:

“Even if the number of people coming to live in this country falls, we’ll have to build at least 220,000 homes a year for the next decade just to keep up with population growth. 220,000 new homes every year, just to stand still. To maintain the status quo.”

A year ago he said:

“If we’re going to do more than just stand still, if we’re going to make serious inroads into tackling this nation’s housing crisis, we’re going to have to build at least 300,000 homes a year.”

The National Housing Federation has given a figure of 340,000 a year. The Labour Party’s Lyons Review gave us a figure of 243,000.

Last year’s Conservative Manifesto said:

“We will meet our 2015 commitment to deliver a million homes by the end of 2020 and we will deliver half a million more by the end of 2022.”

It all has a bit of a whiff of central planning about it, doesn’t it? The Government doesn’t produce figures for how many new dishwashers or pairs of trousers we need each year. Then again the market is allowed to operate in those areas. If the state was building the “housing units” – in the spirit of Harold Macmillan – or the dishwashers or trousers, then such targets might have some relevance. As it is, such plans are pretty much cheerful guesses.

The other problem is that suppose meeting “need” means increasing supply to an extent that house prices do not increase in real terms. Would that be fine and dandy? No. It would simply mean the status quo was maintained. Millions unable to get on the housing ladder. Millions in overcrowding. Millions paying extortionate rent in the private sector, or caught in shoddy accommodation in the public sector. Paralysis restricting people from being able to move. So that is not fine and dandy – unless you are Jeremy Corbyn seeking to gather in the votes of those angry with the current arrangements.

What is needed is a sufficient supply of new housing to allow a steady and substantial fall in house prices over a period of several years. That would require bold action: to make it much easier to win planning permission (provided the new homes are attractive); and releasing a huge amount of surplus state land for development.

Of course, the amount of new housing is not the only figure to keep track of. Within that total, the share of tenure can also vary.

The Dwelling Stock Estimates for last year showed “the owner occupied dwelling stock increased by 262,000 and the private rented stock decreased by 46,000. The social and affordable rented stock increased by 3,000 dwellings and the other public sector stock decreased by 1,000 dwellings.” That meant that homeownership did go up – albeit by only half a per cent. It rose from 62.4 per cent to 62.9 per cent. The problem is that it meant the private rented sector was diminished. Tinkering around with schemes such as Help to Buy and clobbering the buy to let market will tilt things a bit towards those buying to become owner occupiers. What is really needed is to have more homes becoming available – rather than fiddling around assisting or penalising one group of buyers over another.

It’s not all doom. There is an important increase in supply which these figures don’t capture: Many existing properties are being extended to provide extra bedrooms. Walk along terraced streets in London and it won’t be long before you see builders at work. This could allow for greater scope for the old fashioned arrangement of taking in lodgers – especially if the Government had the sense to increase the Rent a Room tax relief.

The upshot is that overall the housing situation is stable – perhaps it is getting very slightly better. The hitch is that that is another way of saying it is still pretty dire for many people. What is the Government going to do about it? One strategy would be to compete with the Labour Party for the number of “units” the state will build. That would be flawed as a strategy. Nobody believes that the taxpayer would be able to fund building on the scale required. Even if it was viable to borrow the hundreds of billions, past experience is that they would be pretty awful places to live. Apart from these practical points there is also a political and philosophical difficulty – such a contest of who is most socialist would inevitably be won by the Labour.

The other strategy, more in keeping with Conservative principles, would be to allow the housing market to function – to release land from the Government’s grasp and lift the restrictions.

So far the Government is making a token pursuit of both strategies. But not doing enough to make much of a difference.

Judy Terry: More new homes could be built in Suffolk is the bureaucracy was hacked back

Here is one firm’s account of how unnecessary costs and delay in the planning system holds them back. Timescales promised by councils are not honoured.

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

Building around a thousand new homes across East Anglia each year, Hopkins Homes is a thriving Suffolk-based housebuilder which prides itself on its no compromise approach to design and build quality.

Hopkins Homes delivers a substantial number of houses to meet the region’s housing shortage, yet each property continues to be sympathetically designed to reflect the architecture and character of the local area whilst still offering the convenience and energy efficiency expected of a new build home.

“There is no doubting the need to build new houses to help solve the country’s housing crisis. However, we believe that housebuilders have a responsibility that goes beyond simply providing new homes”, says Development Director, Simon Bryan. “It has always been a challenge, but we use our extensive local knowledge to design developments which reflect the character of their setting”.

However, the Planning process is a growing frustration:

“We have always recognised the importance of working with and listening to communities and stakeholders to explore local views on issues, for example on drainage, travel planning, wildlife and archaeology to name a few, and worked to ameliorate these concerns prior to submitting our application. But planning has become increasingly more bureaucratic, involving a large number of consultees who have growing influence. The expansive range of parties involved in the decision process is only creating significant delays and cost without improving the process. Ultimately it delays the rate at which new homes can be delivered.”

He confirms that some local authorities don’t always appear to understand the benefits which quality, sustainable, new housing can bring to their local economies. Good housing helps to attract new investment, creating thriving communities.

“Most authorities do not have site allocations or an adopted Local Plan. Even when land has the benefit of an outline planning consent, it often requires a high level of pre-application work, demanding more public consultation, exhibitions and more meetings with planning officers. Typically, surface water drainage would be addressed by our engineers as part of an application, but we are now finding some flood authorities are taking an extreme view requiring additional and unnecessary requirements to be met.

“As a result, the level of up-front costs incurred before submitting an application have significantly increased. To prepare and submit an application of a reasonably sized development can regularly cost around £150,000.”

Iain Jamie, the firm’s Land Director, interjects:

“From the time we identify a piece of land, it could be two or three years before we start on site because of the growing bureaucracy we have to contend with. It is only in the final stages of a project that we realise the profit on our original investment.

“Planning should be determined within 13 weeks, but that’s far from reality. It frequently takes a year just to get our application to a planning committee. Even at that stage, some councillors can disregard data from statutory consultees, and even overrule officer recommendations for approval.

“Section 106 obligations should then be a formality, but it can take months to reach agreement after planning consent has been granted.

“Despite the introduction of Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), which was supposed to simplify and speed up matters, there is still a tendency to see developers as a cash cow, by making unreasonable demands for local amenities or infrastructure which are too often unrelated to a new housing development.

“This is not conducive to making things happen, leading to unnecessary delays and erroneous accusations of ‘land banking’ because sites cannot be developed without agreement, whilst adding to the pressure on housing.”

From the beginning of October, local planning authorities are no longer permitted to impose pre-commencement conditions. Nevertheless, both directors suggest that, to reduce frustrations and delays, the Government should consider introducing measures to enforce timescales, and authorities should beef up their resources, or perhaps share specific expertise with others to speed up the process.

Simon added:

“Whilst we are fully appreciative of the reduced resources available at many Local Authorities, we are not seeing the same quality in planning service that was evident just a decade ago as there is often a lack of proper management of the application experience process. Furthermore we feel that senior officers should be empowered further to issue decisions, when applications are fully compliant with local and national policies.”

The company prides itself on developing sites which offer a good balance and variety of traditionally built new homes suitable for different types of home buyer, from first time buyers on Help to Buy, to families and downsizers, with two thirds of sites providing bungalows, which are in high demand. “There is definitely a trend for low maintenance, energy-efficient, single storey properties in locations which are easily accessible to public and private amenities.” Some sites offer shared equity homes that are sold at a discount to open market value, which are only available to ‘qualified’ buyers who have local connections and salaries below certain thresholds.

Arguing against the questionable leasehold practices now offered by some developers and management companies, Iain confirms, “We have never sold leasehold ‘houses’, and the ground rents for our leasehold apartments do not exceed 0.1 per cent of the value of the property, giving buyers security that this is fixed for 25 years and then only increasing in line with inflation.”

Increasingly, resident management companies control the communal areas on their completed sites, in the absence of local authorities agreeing to adopt them. “This approach gives buyers comfort, with every householder becoming a shareholder in their community, controlling their environment and the costs incurred. It also brings added responsibility to sustaining high standards”, explains Iain.

To maximise efficiency, the company uses subcontractors for on-site construction, closely monitored by their own management team. “Getting good quality tradespeople is an increasing challenge, and we are aware that some of our subcontractors are going overseas to recruit”, adds Simon.

“In the UK, the building industry isn’t recognised as a profession, yet more young people should be encouraged to learn trades, from plumbing to carpentry, brickwork to plastering, and landscaping. These are world-class skills, paying good salaries, yet all the emphasis is on academic careers, which can leave students in debt, and don’t necessarily bring the same financial rewards over a lifetime of working.”

Meeting with Hopkins Homes is yet another indication that, instead of interfering in what works well, in the interests of taxpayers and the economy, Government and local authorities should reduce bureaucracy – and actually listen to business.

Howard Flight: The best part of a week on, we can see that last week’s Budget was a popular one

The Chancellor has been fortunate that the public finances have improved substantially at a particularly convenient time.

Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Philip Hammond has been fortunate that the public finances have improved substantially at a particularly convenient time. Economic growth has been revised up next year to 1.6 per cent; employment has been revised up, with 800,000 more jobs than forecast in 2023; wages will rise above inflation for the next five years.

The borrowing target has been met three years early, with the deficit now down to 1.9 per cent of GDP. The debt target has also been met three years early at a peak of 85 per cent of GDP. Borrowing is £11.6 billion lower than forecast at 1.2 per cent of GDP. This has improved significantly the scope of what the Budget can seek to address.

Overall public spending will increase by 1.2 per cent per annum, between 0.2 per cent and 0.4 per cent less than forecast growth. The improved tax yields have enabled the Prime Minister’s NHS commitment to be fully funded.

The Chancellor presented a pragmatic “micro” Budget, seeking to address virtually all of the issues which came up as needing attention. Yet perhaps its most important ingredient was a significant cut in taxation for the majority next April – increasing the personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate to £50,000 a year.

Local Authorities are getting an extra £1 billion of funding and business rates for retailers with rateable values below £51,000, will be cut by a third for two years. A further £1.7 billion each year will be provided to benefit working families on Universal Credit with the work allowance – the amount families can earn before losing credits – being increased by £1000 per annum.

A new two per cent digital services tax to insure that large digital firms pay a “fair share” of tax, is expected to raise £400 million per annum. Schools will get a further 400 million this year and defence will get a further £1 billion this year and next. There is also £160 million for counter-terror police. The national living wage will increase by nearly five per cent to £8.21. The national productivity investment fund will be increased to £37 billion and will be extended to 2024. Large roads will get £28.8 billion for 2020-25, and even potholes will get £420 million! PFI will be abolished, leaving a bill for £200 billion to be honoured.

There was a range of extra funding largely for small business – extending the annual investment allowance to £1 million; extending the start-up loans programme for 10,000 entrepreneurs; delivering the lowest corporation tax rate in the G20; keeping three million small businesses out of VAT; reducing the cost of taking on apprentices by halving the co-investment rate for non-levy payers; £121 million to support cutting-edge digital manufacturing; £78 million to fund electric motor innovations; £315 million in quantum technologies and £50 million for new Turing Fellowships.

Measures to help more people into home ownership include abolishing stamp duty retrospectively for first time buyers of all shared ownership properties of up to £500,000; an additional £500 million for the housing infrastructure fund; committing over £7.2 billion to a new help to buy equity loan scheme to support 110,000 new home buyers and the abolition of the housing revenue account cap controlling local authority borrowing for house building.

There are measures for those keen on the environment and more money for the Transforming Cities fund. Remarkably, the Chancellor has addressed virtually all the issues of concern to citizens and, as a result, I think, the best part of a week on, that this has proved to be a very popular Budget. The one important reform it has not addressed is the confiscatory rates of stamp duty on larger properties in London and the South East. This had led to a freezing up of the market – bad for revenues and for economic mobility.