So the party conference season is over and now we know what our politicians have to say about the UK property market – and, if we’re honest, we’re feeling a little dispirited.
After all, this is the year which began with the main protagonists using the “broken” housing market as a stick to hit each other with.
A White Paper was issued in March promising the Government would be making land available in the right places, bolstering the planning process, holding developers to account and redefining the meaning of what constitutes an “affordable home”.
But, although we have to accept that the wheels of Westminster often move more slowly than we’d like and it’s difficult to put right decades of neglect in a few months, the fact remains things still feel pretty much the same today as they did back in the spring.
If we are to believe what we read in the media – despite the abolition of stamp duty on some homes and a hike in interest rates – a significant number of first-time buyers are still no nearer being able to afford a property of their own. Meanwhile, the cost of letting is also on the rise, with the majority of younger people now having to use a third of their income just to cover their rent.
At their annual gathering, the Tory housing minister James Brokenshire promised an Ombudsman to protect those who buy their homes straight from a developer and moves to make it easier to build above existing apartments, shops and offices.
Labour was perhaps a little more direct, pledging – if elected – more council houses and housing association homes, a substantial £3,200 annual tax on owners of second holiday homes and a new Renters’ Union to protect the interests of those who let property. But, as ever, the devil is in the detail – and there was precious little of that.
So where are we now? Well, as of this week, not much further forward; the latest reports indicate the value of the average home in the UK has still edged up another couple of per cent – even further out of reach of the average first-time buyer.
Of course, no one wants a property crash; if there was a rapid and significant drop in property values then it could lead to jitters across the wider economy.
But we do still need more homes that people can afford so, rather than tinkering around at the edges of some of peripheral issues, surely the best way to do that is to build them. That’s likely to mean applying pressure on developers to construct a few less lucrative four-bedroom “executive” properties and a few more one and two-bedroom homes – and not just in the cities but some of the rural communities too.
Do the politicians have the stomach to front up to construction industry bosses, introducing legislation which penalises profit-first policies and encourages them to build more of what we need and a less of what they think we want? We shall see…
It may not make them many friends in some of the boardrooms but it could stop us galloping full-tilt into a housing disaster which could take future generations decades to sort out.
A little bravery and vision now could ensure today’s politicians are remembered as heroes who saved us from disaster. Surely that is a better legacy than being remembered as the ones who stood by and did nothing as the property market crashed and burned?
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