And for once it was largely positive news from Number 11. The £250 million package to help first-time buyers had been widely trailed and grabbed many of the headlines, but how much will this and the other measures help the government deliver its key housing aim of boosting supply?
The sector is still reeling from chancellor George Osborne’s previous cost-cutting interventions and the scale of its challenge is huge: 116,560 homes were started in the UK in 2009/10, just over half the level of two years previously, and more than 250,000 households are formed each year. The £250 million ‘firstbuy’ initiative to help 10,000 households onto the property ladder has been universally welcomed, but 195,000 loans were made to first-time buyers last year compared with 403,000 in 2006, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders. The CML characterised this intervention as ‘modest support’ and you can see why.
More significant hope is raised by the focus on what Mr Osborne called the ‘chronic obstacle to growth in Britain - the planning system’. While planners, through the Town and Country Planning Association, have rightly warned against throwing the baby out with the bathwater in the rush to cut red-tape, proposals to end lengthy planning delays and prevent local authorities from stymieing development through badly judged planning gain requirements are long-overdue. The promise of a presumption in favour of sustainable development through the new national planning framework is crucial to ensuring this process succeeds.
But the chancellor will come in for serious stick from the green lobby, over plans to water down the definition of a zero carbon home. True, such a move will reduce the cost of building post-2016 once the target for all new homes to be zero carbon is introduced. But it comes just weeks after the Zero Carbon Hub had aligned campaigners and builders behind a more demanding definition. We will never know, but if Mr Osborne ensures more homes are built at, say, code for sustainable homes level 5 than would otherwise have been the case, is this not a pill worth swallowing?