A response to Sajid Javid’s conference speech

Speeches at Party Conferences are notoriously strong on rhetoric and light on detail so responses to them always need to be caveated that the detail will be awaited before reaching a final conclusion. Nevertheless we have a new government in office and the Conservative Conference is for many minsters the first opportunity to indicate how they are approaching their portfolios.

Inevitably it is what they have to say that is relevant to meeting London’s Housing crisis that attracts my attention and whether there is anything to offer hope that the efforts being led by the Mayor and supported across London’s Boroughs will be joined by government support at pace and scale.

To begin to solve that crisis there needs to be an unprecedented increase in the number of new homes built in London each year and most of that increase will involve units for rent not for sale. Those rental units will have to meet the needs of a wide range of Londoners of varying incomes and family sizes and a significant proportion must be genuinely affordable.

The availability of land and construction capacity will also be key considerations while the regulations that will be published shortly subsequent to the passage of the Housing and Planning Act will need to be scrutinized very carefully for the effect they will have.

So what did we learn from Sajid Javid’s speech in Birmingham today?

Three major initiatives were announced starting with a £3 billion Home Builders Fund. The aim of which is to help build more than 225,000 new homes and create thousands of jobs. No one is going to decry more money for housing and hopefully this will not be overly constrained so that the money can be allocated quickly and fairly. 

The second announcement referred to a new initiative described as Accelerated Construction on public land, taking Government-owned land and partnering with contractors and investors to speed up housebuilding. This may be intended to build on the work that started in the capital with the London Land Commission and the key question will be what the involvement of local authorities is going to be. He also spoke of the creation of new supply chains using offsite construction, the aim being to encourage new models of building to make houses that people want, more cheaply and at pace. It is hoped that these measures will allow work to get started on 15,000 homes by 2020.  It is reassuring that the minister has recognised the significance of this form of construction but 15,000 seems a modest target?

Next came a reference to bringing forward of a package of measures to encourage urban regeneration and to build on brownfield land. For example, abandoned shopping centres being transformed into new communities, and increasing density of housing around stations to build homes that people want to live in. Perhaps it’s because I was doing a topping out at one of the towers in Lewisham Town Centre on Friday but this did sound like a statement of the obvious!

Of course these were really just whetting our appetite for the White paper he intends to publish later with “further significant measures” towards the ambition for a million new homes by 2020. It is helpful to have a government that recognises the scale of the problem we face but they in turn need to recognise that local government woke up that quite some years ago and has been addressing the need for more new homes imaginatively since. Whatever the detail of the minister’s plans they need to enable local authorities and housing associations as well as the private sector to get on with things rather than have to meet excessively restrictive requirements imposed from the centre.

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