Get off our backs!
That’s the message housebuilders should be sending to politicians, says Paul Finch
We are not short of offices or shops in our great capital, but we are very short of housing. Why? When I explain to overseas visitors what happens if you want to build homes in London, they can scarcely believe it. This is what I tell them:
- You are liable to pay a Community Infrastructure Levy
- You are liable to pay the mayor’s Crossrail levy
- You have to pay for, or deliver, Section 106 planning gain requirements
- You may also have to contribute to the local planning authority’s current pet project
- You will have to provide up to 40 per cent of your project as affordable (implying that the other 60 per cent is unaffordable)
- Having paid through the nose for your site, and waited twice as much time as should be necessary to get planning permission, you may finally dig a trench.
Imagine if bakers were treated in this way, with levies to provide power stations, and a requirement to provide affordable loaves to be sold at a loss. In no time at all there would be a bread shortage, just as there is a housing shortage.
So the big message to politicians from the housebuilding industry might reasonably be: GET OFF OUR BACKS!
London will need 50,000 new homes a year for the foreseeable future. Let’s hope that quantity can be combined with quality as we shift from Parker Morris to Parker Boris, since the mayor has proved reasonably robust in his bid to combat the construction of rabbit hutches masquerading as homes across the capital.
At least he has done something. At the London Property Summit last week, planning minister Nick Boles denied he was in favour of building on Green Belt, pointing out that protections in the National Planning Policy Framework are very strong.
But what is his proposition about where the 50,000 units a year come from? Actually he hasn’t got one, other than a vague desire to see ‘Pimlico densities’ in the outer boroughs. Instead, he paid tribute to the joys of localism and complained about the Labour Party, which, like him, has no real idea how to deliver the sort of mass housing programme now required. Mr Boles is intensely relaxed about overseas investors buying a large proportion of London’s new housing stock. And, like Mrs Thatcher before him, he seems to imagine that a fiscal policy, in this case underwriting mortgage loans for the middle classes, is the same thing as a housebuilding policy. As for the new housing minister, Kris Hopkins, one notes with dismay that this vital job has been relegated to Parliamentary Private Secretary status. That is what the Coalition thinks about housing: it doesn’t really count.
Meanwhile we keep hearing about the need for labour mobility and the importance of fluidity in the transactional market. What governments never tell you is how they themselves actively inhibit both because of the taxes and levies imposed on anyone who has to buy and sell a home. There is Stamp Duty, of course, a pernicious pick-pocket operation. Even worse is the 20 per cent VAT payable on the fees of every professional involved in the transaction, and the clutch of new white goods (are we still allowed to use this term?) associated with a move, not to mention furniture and fabrics.
As for the majority of the under-30s in London, especially if they have dared to have children, they can expect more of the same from whichever political party is in power - that is to say: nothing. I long to hear from a politician who takes this subject seriously. I suspect Boris does and, if he seriously engaged with it, might yet assume leadership of both party and country.