Just before the Housing White Paper surfaced last week, there were promising sounds coming from Gavin Barwell, with him providing interviews which gave the impression that the government were considering stamp duty cuts for older people looking to downsize. This was encouraging to hear, and we were anticipating some rare clarity and common sense in government policy.
What we in fact got were the same promises that we've heard for many years now, whether from Labour, Conservative or coalition governments. Adding a further slap to the face, stamp duty is mentioned only once in the policy paper, and only in the context of considering further measures to discourage ownership of second homes. It is quite frustrating, as successive governments have now for years been tinkering with a formula that has never been shown to deliver enough homes, like a stubborn chef who simply won't accept that something fundamental is, in fact, wrong with the recipe.
We now have to wait for Mr Barwell and the government to put more flesh on the bones of the issues raised in the White Paper. Unfortunately, there's nothing particularly new, innovative or radical that is even suggested within the contents of the policy document, so it would be very surprising if anything significant arises from this particular set of consultations.
The planning process, which has been found to be one of the main factors stifling house building in the UK, remains cumbersome and the full of inconsistencies from application and from council to council. Local politics and the pressures of NIMBYism are not going to be tackled without a strong stance from central government. With that said, the white paper does at least recognise the issue of land-banking; where developers purchase land and put forward plans for development, but do not develop for years. Whether the “name and shame” approach of making personal ownership details available on the Land Registry will address the issue is another question altogether.
We absolutely welcome the commitment to building more properties, more affordable housing, more appropriate housing for older people, and the relaxation and shake up of planning rules, but the proof will be in the pudding, and we're just not sure that this government have yet come up with a recipe that will encourage the required level of building.
Only time will tell.