Archive for March, 2014

The problem with rising house prices

I have a letter in today’s Guardian.

Chris Huhne is absolutely right to warn that changes to pension rules are likely to lead to “another rip-roaring house price boom” (Osborne’s ‘brilliant’ budget could turn out to be a dud, 24 March). The shame is that all three main parties now seem to want above-inflation increases in house prices.

A booming housing market is lucrative for the Treasury but has dire long term social and economic consequences. If housing is the best investment opportunity available, money will pour into bricks and mortar rather than finding more productive outlets. And the impact of increasingly unaffordable housing on social justice and intergenerational equity should be clear.

Property bubbles also result in building splurges and pressure on the countryside, as recently seen in Ireland and Spain, while doing little for those in need because houses are built for investment on the assumption that prices will continue to rise.

We do need to build many more houses. But we should plan them well and locate them sensitively. A building frenzy fuelled by hopes of making a quick buck should be the last thing anyone wants. Which is why it is so disappointing that no party will commit to house price stability as a policy aim.

When I wrote it I had not read Boris Johnson’s entertaining counter-view in the Daily Telegraph, Budget 2014: Lamborghini ride that says: power to the people. “Some people,” he says, “will want to continue to milk the desiccated beast, and rely on the security of the annuity; and others will want to slaughter it, and use the cash as they see fit. I don’t think many will end up blowing it on Italian cars, actually. I think the vast majority will want to put their pots into the market with the greatest yield over the past 40 years – and that is property; and I expect huge numbers of those approaching pensionable age will be thinking about how they – the baby boomers – can do something to help the younger generation with the single biggest problem they face, namely the cost of housing.”

Continue reading ‘The problem with rising house prices’

The NPPF two years on: CPRE’s new report

CPRE has just published a major ‘two years on’ report on the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), Community Control or Countryside Chaos? It is based on an analysis of 29 local plans prepared or adopted in the last year, and over 70 decisions on major planning applications and appeals.

Nick Boles has dismissed the report as ‘inaccurate, exaggerated and based on a spurious analysis of the facts’, so I urge you to read it and make up your own mind. Planning can be a private language, but I hope the report’s gist is clear.  Among the conclusions I draw from it are that:

  • the NPPF has given too much power to developers to decide where housing should go, particularly when a local authority does not have an up to date local plan;
  • faced with the need to meet fantasy housing numbers, local authorities are finding it increasingly hard to complete local plans;
  • the Planning Inspectorate, reading government intentions, has favoured housing delivery over the other aims of the NPPF;
  • local authorities who want to promote brownfield development have been prevented from doing so; and
  • communities feel increasingly under siege and are losing faith in local democracy (aka the planning system). Continue reading ‘The NPPF two years on: CPRE’s new report’

Bingo! Budget boon for home owners.

It famously takes time to assess the significance of a Budget. Yesterday’s Budget had a number of surprises and some popular announcements. It included a number of measures that CPRE welcomed.

But Budgets that look good on the day can quickly unravel. Much of the press attention has been on beer and bingo. The Metro’s front page headline is: ‘If the Pub Landlord did budgets.’ And a row has broken out about an alleged Conservative Party poster: ‘Bingo! Cutting the beer tax & beer duty to help hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy.’ This is clearly a spoof: I have too much regard for Grant Shapps to think he could be responsible for anything so fatuous. Continue reading ‘Bingo! Budget boon for home owners.’

Population: should CPRE say more?

I receive more letters on population than any other subject.  Most accuse me of dodging the issue.

In response I explain that I am perfectly willing to discuss it and acknowledge the importance to the environment of our rising population.  But what then?  CPRE could say at every turn (as we are asked to do) that population is important and that almost any environmental problem is made harder to solve by more people and easier with fewer.  But sooner or later someone will ask, ‘if population is so important, what do you think we should do about it?’ Continue reading ‘Population: should CPRE say more?’

The case for urbanism: reminding Labour what it stood for

Reading CPRE’s response to the Lyons Housing Review prompts the thought that good ideas can lose political currency for no good reason.  I wrote in an earlier blog about the way in which the Government has simply chosen to ignore the evidence that building new roads is not the solution to congestion.  A long-standing political and academic consensus has been abandoned without explanation.  Perhaps the Government just got bored of the evidence. Continue reading ‘The case for urbanism: reminding Labour what it stood for’