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Is the housing minister hitting a brick wall with his 'mythical' target?

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LGC’s essential daily commentary 

 At the launch of the Distinctively Local architectural report this morning, housing minister Kit Malthouse described the government’s target to build 300,000 new homes a year as ‘mythical’.

Afterwards, there was some debate over whether he had said ‘mythical’ or ‘mystical’, either of which would seem apt in the context of a target that seems to be increasingly unlikely to achieve, given the floundering housing market. Was this a revealing freudian slip, or is the government quietly backtracking on its housing commitments?

Giving evidence to the Commons’ public accounts commitee earlier this week Melanie Dawes, permanent secretary at the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government also described it as ’very ambitious’ and was unable to say exactly how it would be delivered.  

An email to MHCLG to clarify which word it was that Mr Malthouse had used quickly resulted in a phone call from an anxious spokesperson, who was keen to emphasize that that the 300,000 target was “ambitious, but realistic and achievable”.

There are some encouraging signs that the target hasn’t become another ‘Brexit’ - much talked about but never actually realised. Today, the new homes warranty and insurance provider NHBC announced that the number of new homes registered in the first three months of the year is up 3% on the same period in 2018. Encouragingly, while the private sector was down by 6% the affordable and rental sector was up 36%.

The news was particularly encouraging for the UK’s homeless hotspot of London, which saw a 58% rise from 3,549 homes in 2018 to 5,625 this year, boosted by a number of large schemes being registered at the start of this year. 

But before we break out the bubbly, let’s just consider that the first three months of last year was when the Beast from the East swept in and left building sites deserted, so any comparison with that period has to take this into account.

A report last month from property firm Savills warned that the slowdown in the private housing market will make it impossible to rely on planning gain to deliver sufficient affordable homes. One of the architects behind the Distinctively Local report, Andrew Beharrell, senior partner at Pollard Thomas Edwards, admitted that “it’s becoming harder to achieve financial viability for new developments at a time when we really need more homes.”

Mr Malthouse said that to reach the magical 300,000 figure, “you need one million in construction at any one time” but the UK is also facing a skills shortage in construction industry.

Mr Malthouse claims that we now stand “on the brink of the golden age of housing” which should ”ornament the country”. 

”The only way to get to that [300,000 figure] is by building fantastic stuff,” he told the audience. ”To me, this is the alchemy to turn a problem into an opportunity.”

Let’s hope his mythical target doesn’t just become a myth. 

Jessica Hill, senior reporter 

 

 

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