It’s fair to say housing didn’t feature too much at the dispatch box last week during Phil’s much-discussed budget. The housing market faces profound challenges against the backdrop of Brexit, so you could be forgiven for thinking that further funding announcements and entry-level stamp duty cuts aren’t going to inject that burst of energy the market needs, despite being positive changes.
There was one announcement whose potentially sizeable impact wasn’t given the recognition it deserves by Mr Hammond. The Independent Review of Build Out by Oliver Letwin and its potential for change shouldn’t be underestimated.
It recognises that we’ve been working with a planning system that isn’t fit for purpose anymore, one that has its roots in the housing needs of the post-war era rather than 2018.
It dispels the myth of land banking too, which should help reduce the amount of unfounded criticism too often levelled at the world of property. Positivity is going to play a crucial role in delivering those 300,000 homes a year.
But perhaps the most important of its recommendations are those on the need for diversity. The new-build identikit culture has become the default approach and that’s not conducive to a dynamic marketplace.
Mr Letwin rightly draws the link between diversity in type, tenure and consumption levels, as housing should reflect the society it is built to accommodate – we live in a society that is hugely diverse in so many ways. Whether it’s a change in career, marital status, sheer curiosity or anything in between, the housing needs of the individual are always changing and the marketplace and the rules that define it need to keep up with that.
The Letwin Review isn’t the be all and end all. The government would be wise to conduct a similar review on sites of all sizes for a start. But the Letwin Review gets it.
It’s a step in the right direction, accepting that targets will only be met if the rules are revisited. It’s now up to the government to take the advice on board and really make things happen.