The release of the Government’s long awaited White Paper on Housing represents the completion of a policy triumvirate, after weeks of set piece announcements. The Corporate Governance Green Paper, the Industrial Strategy White Paper and now the Government’s policy statement on Housing can be viewed as direct manifestations of the vision that Theresa May laid out for her premiership on the steps of Downing Street in June last year, when she talked about the need for an industrious post Brexit economy and new opportunities for hard working families.
Taking those themes in turn, there is a lot contained within the Housing White Paper that complements the aims of the Government’s Industrial Strategy. The latter – released last month – set out the need to encourage private investment in house building and to target infrastructure development where there is local need, in order to rebalance the economy and increase productivity across the country. This is exactly what the Housing White Paper sets out in greater detail, with a new commitment to encourage more institutional investors into housing and new responsibilities for local authorities across the country to pass new housing delivery tests to ensure houses are built where they are most needed.
Planning laws will be relaxed to encourage developers to build homes more quickly while the Government has also promised to address the skills shortage in the construction workforce to create a talent pool that is capable of building the sheer number of homes we need.
In keeping with the Government’s ideological land grab from the Labour Party, the White Paper also signals a U-turn on a decade old Conservative value: the Government has signalled an abandonment of its commitment to universal homeownership, with new measures designed to make renting more appealing as a long term solution for people seeking a home. Moreover, the announcement that the Government will also encourage three year tenancies, builds on recent proposals to ban letting agency fees. Indeed, what is striking is the resemblance to the Labour housing promises that the Tories so lambasted little over 18 months ago at the 2015 general election.
This was a white paper that was always likely to contentious, and it was subject to a number of untimely delays. It highlighted the ideological dichotomy at the heart of Conservative thinking: while subscribing to the view that growth and economic change is an urgent need, they are also hamstrung by the political difficulties involved in doing some of the really bold things – chief among which is unquestionably agreeing more building on green belt land. It is this that held up the paper for many months as the Cabinet and Tory backbenches squabbled over whether it was right to build on green belt land. In the end, on this point, the powerful backbench Conservatives – boosted by the Government’s razor-thin majority – got their way.
It means we have a Housing White Paper that is on the one hand progressive – and in some places a serious departure from Conservative values – but is also tempered with a traditional vision of a green and pleasant land. Whatever way you look at it, there is something here for everyone.