Housing white paper - looking in the wrong direction?

Tuesday’s long-awaited white paper on housing admitted that the housing market is “broken” – but does it offer any way of fixing it?

I had high hopes of the Housing White Paper.  Housing has been so high on the political agenda since the last election and Theresa May’s first speeches on taking over as Prime Minister promised much.

Sadly, the White Paper doesn’t seem to offer much to change the chronic shortage of affordable housing (accent on the term affordable).

The headline announcement was a change of government focus, admitting that home ownership for all should not necessarily be the objective of a housing policy and that long-term rental should be an acceptable option.

I’m not quibbling with that, but the problem as I see it is less about ownership and more about affordability.  It doesn’t make much of a difference to your cost of living if you are paying rent or a mortgage: from a day-to-day living point of view the critical sum is how much you pay each month.

And this is my problem with the government strategy – it’s all geared towards throwing finance at first-time buyers and a delivery model that relies on large housebuilders.  The result is spiralling prices with private rental costs following the upward trend of purchases – and I don’t see anything in the White Paper to suggest this is going to change.

On the plus side, it’s good to see local authorities having to make proper forecasts of real housing needs: if we could get to state where housebuilding were to become a less volatile market, then the UK might become a more attractive investment proposition for technical innovation and it might become more worthwhile for companies to invest in proper training programmes and better employment conditions for tradespeople.

I was so hoping to see some kind of support for public sector housing providers and instead, all we got was a renewed commitment to the Right to Buy programme – surely an ideological throwback at odds with the stated intention to encourage long-term renting.

Good to see encouraging noises being made towards SME builders, self-builders and investors, but this doesn’t seem to be much more than rhetoric.

Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect to see any ground-breaking initiatives being launched: there have been so many stimulus schemes introduced over the last five years which have done much to stimulate the housebuilding market.  I guess for now we just have to hope that consumer confidence remains strong and first time buyers remain enthusiastic about taking on vast mortgages.