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A housing White Paper

Thursday, January 12, 2017 22:35
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We are awaiting a government White Paper to set out ways to promote the construction of more homes. The government believes the UK build rate needs to be considerably higher than the current one, given the large number of people needing homes.

I agree with those who write in to say that the government should deal with the demand side as well as the supply side. The government itself has pledged to cut inward migration to tens of thousands, but believes it needs to exit the EU first so it can extend migration controls to EU citizens as well as to people coming from the rest of the world. We await a statement of policy from the new Home Secretary on how migration controls will be tightened generally and especially for EU migrants. The indications are that the government wishes to limit work permits for lower paid jobs, but leave free movement for highly qualified and well paid people, and management  coming in under intra company transfers.

We need more homes just to deal with pent up demand from people already legally settled here. There are many young people who would like a home of their own, who cannot afford to buy so they  stay living with their parents. There are many young people sharing flats and houses with others of their generation, with the cost of housing being one factor that delays establishing their own household. Many more people would like to own a home of their own who are currently living in rented accommodation. There are also elderly people whose children have left home who are put off moving to a smaller and more manageable property by the high costs of moving, including Stamp Duty as a significant deterrent.

I would be interested to hear your ideas on what further measures the government should take in its White Paper and in the budget that follows. I want to see Stamp Duty brought down to lower levels. At the expensive multi million end it has greatly reduced transactions in  dear properties, leading to a fall in revenues from the tax. For the rest of us in the normal market it is still an expensive addition to the costs of first purchase or moving.

I support the government’s enthusiasm for more factory manufacture and pre assembly to speed and improve building. We are short of many building trades for on site work. The weather often delays their task. If more components of a kitchen, bathroom, structure of a home, window assemblies and roof can be made in the factory the time taken on site can be reduced and the available skilled labour concentrated on those tasks that can only be done on site.

The main housebuilders are all taking some steps in this direction. More homes will be built around a timber pre-fabricated frame. More sub assemblies will be done in the factory for systems and components going into the home. Progress is however quite slow. Where government itself is the customer it could require faster progress in this direction. The UK housebuilding industry was badly damaged and slimmed down by the Great recession of 2008-9. Most of the companies  now are strongly cash generative, but very cautious about expanding their output and their balance sheets too much. That is why demand so outstrips supply.


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