Alex Green takes a look at the Housing and Planning Bill 

Stewart Smyth recently wrote on The LSE’s British Politics and Policy Blog, – “Housing Policy can’t be fixed until we treat houses as homes and not as stores of wealth.”

This seems like sage advice as, after all, a home is a place to live. But with the Housing and Planning Bill now on its first reading in the House of Lords, having sailed through the Commons, are the government’s new housing policies focused on the wrong values?

Here at Snapdragon this very topic has been the subject of lengthy debate, and never has it seemed more relevant than in a week when the papers have widely reported that slumps in the global economy may lead to the UK property bubble bursting sooner rather than later.

In light of such predictions, the housing crisis that we so regularly hear about seems to take on a different meaning, different but perhaps more obvious. If the bubble bursts, yes, property prices will tumble, but crucially, will people have somewhere to live?

Notably, the government’s Housing and Planning Bill 2015-16 will see the Conservative administration extend its right-to-buy initiative and implement a starter home policy that is aimed at giving more people access to that coveted property asset.

The bill will also see changes to council housing, including a requirement that when a council tenant’s flat becomes vacant, the council will be obliged to sell it, and only if the council pays the government its market price can it remain a tenanted council property.  On the surface these and other measures seem to point at a vision of a society full of homeowners. But is this focus correct?

According to statistics published in The UK Housing Review Briefing Paper 2015, housing wealth is being concentrated in the hands of the relative few, and nearly half of owner-occupiers under occupy their homes. This seems to point at a problem, not with housing supply as such, but to put it crudely, the distribution of homes.

With nearly 1.4 million households on social housing waiting lists, rental prices up 8.5% on the year, record numbers of 20 -34 year olds living with their parents, and average house prices hitting 10 times average earnings, it is easy to see why people like Stewart Smyth are trying to shift the debate.

Is there a housing crisis? Yes. Is the current policy direction sustainable? This is up for discussion.

If you have any questions please contact Alex Green on 0203 176 4161.