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Long-term vision and strategy are missing from the coalition’s attack on red tape

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The coalition is launching schemes and slashing red tape faster than we can type, says Christine Murray

The two key things missing from their approach: long-term vision and cohesive strategy.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise the worrying Help to Buy scheme, which encourages banks to lend to cash-poor borrowers, is a government-backed repeat of the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the making. But in case you were having second thoughts, respected economist Albert Edwards of Société Générale described Help to Buy as ‘a moronic policy that stands head and shoulders above most of the stupid economic policies I have seen implemented during my 30 years in this business’.

Edwards continued: ‘UK house prices, in London most especially, have never been allowed to correct to “affordable” levels. First-time buyers need cheaper homes, not greater availability of debt to inflate house prices further. This is madness.’

Nevertheless, the scheme appears to be stimulating housebuilding - as well as driving up prices - inflating what some believe is a dangerous house price bubble.

House sales

It is interesting that the scheme runs counter to the government’s faith in the free market. Elsewhere, with the slashing of red tape, they’re sticking to Tory-economics. Speaking at the AJ100 Breakfast Club last week, the line from Kevin McGeough, senior strategy manager at the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), was that there would be no housing standards imposed on private developers building on ex‑government plots.

An architect working in government, McGeough is charged with releasing land for 100,000 homes before 2015 to stimulate the building of homes through the development of innovative programmes such as Buy Now, Pay Later land deals. McGeough’s view is that the market and the planning authorities are sophisticated enough to ensure quality without policy. He said: ‘When we started, very few house builders were employing architects. We introduced the first standards for private sector housing, including space standards.

‘We no longer require any standards. That doesn’t mean we don’t want quality, it means we think there are better people in the market than there were in 2007, and local authorities are in a better place to require good standards for themselves.’

Also this week, we learned that Design and Access planning statements will be scrapped later this month for all small-scale developments below 1,000m2 or 10 dwellings. Developers and architects broadly welcomed the move to reduce the complexity of planning applications, but raised the alarm about its impact on design quality and community consultation as well. Without the statements, adjoining neighbours will need to read the plans and sections without any explanatory notes - some architects have said that, as a result, they’ll be including statements anyway.

These schemes, taken together, may lead to more homes in the short term - but not better homes. Government must push hard for quality housing in its drive for volume. Long-term growth and investment in UK cities depend on it.

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