Will Gove’s 10-point housing plan go the distance?

Paul Broadhead, Head of Mortgages and Policy at the BSA, shares his views of the Government's recently published Housing Plan.

By Paul Broadhead, Head of Mortgage and Housing Policy at the BSA. First published in Mortgage Finance Gazette 

You can tell the summer recess is almost upon us, as government ministers scramble to get their outstanding projects announced before grabbing their panamas and throwing towels on the sun loungers.  Michael Gove was no exception, and duly delivered his 10 point plan for the housing market.

It was great to see that the government believes it is on track to see 1 million new homes being built by the end of this parliament (though still well behind the now-abandoned target of 300,000 homes per year) and encouraging that more brownfield land will be made fit for development in cities and towns.  However, as with most government announcements, there were a lot of warm and positive words – this speech included the laudable goal of ‘ensuring every home is safe, decent, and warm’ – but the what, and the how, are a little less obvious.

That said, there were a few points that caught my eye, and on face value I think could make positive in-roads to the housing deficit and other housing issues.

Building beautiful, and making architecture great again

Regular readers of this column will know I’m a big supporter of the Custom and Self-Build (CSB) market as a route to help fill the housing shortage that has resulted from chronic underinvestment in housing supply. CSB properties are usually much more bespoke and innovative in their design compared to the standard developer-built homes, which frankly haven’t changed much in the last 30+ years. If we want beautiful architecture, this is the market that is leading the way.

Greener homes, greener landscapes, and green belt protections

Again, CSB homes provide a partial solution here. They are innovative in their use of materials and construction types, particularly in low-carbon buildings, which supports the ambition of greener homes and achievement of carbon emissions targets.

This contrasts with new, developer-built properties, which still have no requirement to meet high energy efficiency standards. To see a commitment to consult on the Future Homes Standard, where new properties will be required to be zero carbon, so warm in winter and cool in summer, is a much-needed and welcome step. There is no time to waste in taking action to stop adding to the 29 million homes that will require green retrofits further down the line. With 20% of the UK’s carbon emissions coming from residential properties, I hope consideration is also being given to tackling the least energy-efficient properties in our stock.

Extending ownership to a new generation

Helping first-time buyers onto the property ladder, alongside providing a safe place for people to save, has been the reason building societies have existed for over 150 years. How they have achieved this has obviously evolved in that time, with many new innovations that respond to market conditions of the day being introduced. 

Recently we have seen Skipton Building Society take the first step back into the 100% mortgage market, supporting those trapped in rental properties, who can afford a mortgage but are struggling to save for the hefty deposit that is usually required.  And Leeds Building Society has launched a new scheme with Credit Reference Agency, Experian, to give a boost to hopeful homebuyers and help them achieve their dream.  It is a combination of many different schemes, such as these, which will make the difference for the majority of would-be homeowners to have the potential to buy their first home.

Gove says that he will prioritise first-time buyers for homes over those with multiple properties, speculative buyers or those who wish to convert family homes into holiday lets. Whilst a worthy ambition, the potential for unintended consequences is high. It will be interesting to see what initiatives, in addition to the already present stamp duty surcharge, he has in mind under this part of his plan.

Building great public services into the heart of every community

Building societies, as customer-owned financial institutions, are built around, and invested in, their local communities. They’re all embedded within their communities, with no Society headquartered in London. Societies, therefore, recognise and advocate the need to invest in community infrastructure and local services, such as schools, healthcare, roads and community areas, alongside any investment in housing supply. By taking a whole community approach there will be much more chance of successful integration, and the welcoming of development within communities.

So to sum up, announcements like this demonstrate that housing is still being discussed in the corridors of Westminster, but what we need to see is not yet more discussion, but action that supports these lofty ambitions.