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The Budget might upset developers, but there’s plenty to cheer up North

Paul Finch
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Down at MIPIM, Paul Finch finds the property industry unimpressed by Osborne’s Budget, except those hoping to gain from the Northern Powerhouse

George Osborne’s Budget was greeted by the property industry, camped down in Cannes at the annual MIPIM extravaganza, with scepticism and some downright hostility. Increasing stamp duty and cutting tax breaks is rarely the way to a developer’s heart.

As usual, at least on the London Stand, much discussion focused on how we are still failing to provide enough housing, and how the new ‘asset class’ of properties built for rent could be the magic bullet to put everything right. It can’t, of course, because the scale of the problem is so enormous: 30 years of minimal council housing, untrammelled inward migration, smaller household sizes and greater longevity cannot be undone. The government’s obsession with offering subsidies to the better-off isn’t helping much, either.

However, there is no reason why private rented sector accommodation cannot be welcomed as long as it is the context of an increase in supply of homes to buy, decent homes to downsize and so on. Tony Pidgley from Berkeley Homes was sensible as usual, arguing for a 30 per cent affordable standard to apply to significant private residential development, but then no more demands for planning gain, and an end to viability squabbles. Good thinking, but some way from what the government seems to have in mind.

I wouldn’t rush to write off Mr Osborne just yet

Also as usual, planners came in for a bashing, as though they have been responsible for the political decisions to limit housing supply by successive governments of all political persuasions. My cynical view is that Tories dislike the working class and New Labour was embarrassed by it, hence the lack of action to provide decent housing, decently designed to decent space standards. The sickening policy of penalising council tenants whose children may have left home, by forcing them to downsize elsewhere or face financial penalties, could only have been dreamed up by Cabinet millionaires who have no idea about the living circumstances of ordinary folk, or the concept of storage.

There was one group of UK people visibly upbeat in Cannes, before, during and after the Budget. Anyone likely to benefit from the Northern Powerhouse will have taken comfort, both from the upbeat assessments of its prospects and the promises of funding for Higher Speed 3, the speed being governed by the maximum achievable through the promised Pennine tunnels.

I wouldn’t rush to write off Osborne just yet. His brilliant dishing of traditional Labour by supporting the North (and the Midlands) has been as imaginative as it was unexpected. Moreover, as I heard while chairing a seminar organised by Aecom, the Powerhouse already has a plan: not yet a spatial plan but something more important. That is to say a transport plan, produced by Greater Manchester transport planners on behalf of the relatively new Transport for the North (TfN).

They are getting on with it, in the same way that Transport for London anticipated increased demand and planned the Jubilee Line, Crossrail and other routes successfully introduced over the last decade. I had not realised just how much TfN has done – a pleasing indication that at last there may be an effective linking of cities, as envisaged by George Brown in the mid-1960s and more recently by John Prescott, with Manchester leading the charge.

Let’s remember it was Will Alsop’s brilliant imagining of a series of linked Northern cities, drawn up when he was working on projects in Barnsley and Bradford, which conceptualised what may now take place, represented by his colourful model that adorned the Royal Academy Summer Show.

Great developments require acts of imagination as well as the nuts and bolts of infrastructure – and, of course, finance.

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