The government has made a number of announcements recently concerning the future of property development.
First came Sir Oliver Letwin’s much-awaited interim report that was supposed to expose and provide a solution to alleged land banking by ‘profligate’ housebuilders.Then we got to see the much-delayed new National Planning Policy Framework, supposedly an enabler for the much-needed 300,000 new homes per year.
Next up was the social housing green paper, promoted a year ago as “the most substantial report of its kind for a generation”. Now we have had the chance to analyse their impact, effectiveness and likely implementation, I do not think the reality lives up to the hype.
Most of the responses to the three documents have been critical. All three took a long time to be published, two were delayed and none did what they initially promised to, which was to provide definitive, unimpeachable guidance on how we produce more homes, to a given deadline and a specific brief.
The reason for this is clear to me. There is only one current priority for the government: exiting the EU. A lot of time, effort and resources are being channelled into this by a government totally pre-occupied with Brexit. The PM championed solving the housing crisis as her single most important objective, yet we have had no less than eight housing ministers in eight years. Is that any way to manage your key target?
Perhaps even more worrying is the consistent departure of staff across Whitehall, said to have been influenced by the impact of outward transfers due to the enhanced Brexit workload, which puts increasing strain on those that remain. Figures released last year showed the churn at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, at 22%, is more than double the level it was in 2010. Staff turnover at UK Export Finance rose from 6% in 2010 to 21% in 2016. Other departments with high turnover include the Wales Office (36%); HM Treasury (19.5%); the Department for Education (13%); and the Ministry of Justice (12%).
We appear to have a distracted government, supported by a depleted administrative function, making important decisions about the property market that will affect all of us.
Prior to the publication the Letwin report, the NPPF and the social housing paper were much trumpeted as delivering solutions to a dysfunctional housing market. I don’t think any of them provide definitive answers and I am not surprised. Brexit is the central distraction and it apparently trumps all else.
Richard Steer is chairman of Gleeds Worldwide