On 21st June 2017, the Queen gave her speech at the State Opening of Parliament. The speech has confirmed the Government's intention to implement the key measures proposed in the Housing White Paper published on 7th February 2017, namely:
- building the right homes in the right places by ensuring every local area produces a plan every 5 years on how it will respond to local housing demand;
- speeding up the house building process by forcing developers to start building within two instead of three years of securing planning permission;
- diversifying the market by providing £3bn of funding to help smaller construction firms deliver new homes and supporting housing associations;
- helping people get on to the 'property ladder' through the introduction of the Lifetime ISA, whereby the Government will contribute a 25% bonus on up to £4,000 per year which can be put towards the purchase of a first home.
The widespread concern regarding the housing market has been recognised by the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid who has stated, "the current system isn’t working" and is "one of the greatest barriers to progress in Britain today". It is clear that the housing market is in need of reformation and it is hoped that by implementing the measures in the White Paper, the housing market will begin to work for everyone.
Although the Government have recognised the concern regarding the housing market, it is interesting to note that that the proposals to deal with the issues are set out as "non-legislative measures" in the Queen's speech. The question therefore remains as to whether non-legislative actions of the Government will be sufficient enough to achieve the measures set out in the White Paper.
Brian Berry, CEO of the Federation of Master Builders, has highlighted the construction industry's concerns regarding the numbers of construction workers and tradespeople available to implement the measures with the introduction of an Immigration Bill. "As suspected, we now know that the Bill will end the free movement of people but that begs the question: what will replace it?" There has already been a significant fall in immigration from EU countries which have traditionally supplied the labour needed to achieve the aims of the White Paper. How the Government plan to fill this void needs clarity.
There are further concerns regarding the availability of social housing in wake of the Government's lack of legislative involvement. The completion of social housing since 2010 was down from around 38,000 in 2010/11 to under 2,000 in 2016/17. However, the Government has continued its commitment to affordable housing, allocating a further £1.4bn for the Affordable Homes Programme, taking total investment in this programme to over £7bn which should see 225,000 affordable homes built in this Parliament. They have opened up the programme, relaxing restrictions on funding so that providers can build a range of homes including for affordable rent, along with Rent to Buy homes alongside shared ownership. It should be noted that there was no mention of social rent.
It is yet to be seen if the number of homes constructed will increase in the absence of primary legislation. It is likely that it will be the overall health of the economy as opposed to Government initiatives that will dictate the number of new houses built. It is also clear that there are many in the industry that feel the Immigration Bill may have a major impact on the building of new houses as well as other infrastructure projects. However, in what must feel like the norm for all UK sectors in recent years who have had to cope with widespread political unpredictability, it is still very much a case of "watch this space".