It’s now been 262 days since Sir Howard Davies delivered his report into airport capacity in the South East and made a clear call for the government to back a new runway at Heathrow.
Why do I mention Heathrow expansion now? Because George Osborne conspicuously failed to do so in his Budget speech on Wednesday.
But not a dicky bird about what many consider the most important infrastructure announcement of all. And few expected it, as the decision has been filed as too difficult, likely as it is to inflame tensions within a Tory party that is barely holding itself together over the EU referendum. If we get one at all, it will be some time after 23 June, fully a year after Davies’ report.
And what of the measures that were in the Budget? Apart from the infrastructure announcements, there was little to bring real cheer.
That certainly seemed to be the case at Mipim, where an already sodden property crowd was left reeling when the news dropped that the chancellor had made another raid on the industry, with a higher rate of stamp duty for commercial transactions. The British Property Federation was particularly sharp in its criticism, pointing out that the reform would be felt more in the regions and could potentially stifle Osborne’s ‘northern powerhouse’.
But Osborne wasn’t quite finished: having hit buy-to-let investors in his Autumn Statement, he came back for more with the surprise announcement that large investors would not be exempt from the new 3% levy on stamp duty for second homes, as had been expected. This, as many were quick to point out, will be a blow to the nascent private rented sector, which has to be an important part of any effort to tackle the housing crisis.
Yes, Osborne’s hands were tied by worsening economic forecasts and a lower tax take, but in search of easy targets the chancellor came knocking on property’s door once again.
Of course these nasty surprises come against the backdrop of the ongoing Brexit uncertainty, which is hanging over everything like the dark clouds that rolled into Cannes on Wednesday.
It’s not so much the fear of Brexit itself, but the uncertainty it creates - and how the issue is beginning to overshadow all others, both in Westminster and the City. As Battersea Power Station Development Company chief executive Rob Tincknell put it this week: “Brexit is going to dominate politics for the next nine months. It’s going to be like Scotland, and it will be interesting to see what happens afterwards. I think it will take a while for the market to calm down.”
And in the meantime, property is left dodging puddles and waiting for the really tough decisions to be made.