Housebuilders need more than rhetoric and money to deliver results

The prime minister’s renewed focus on housebuilding needs to move beyond rhetoric to delivery of bricks and mortar says Zak Deakin.

With much of the aftermath of Theresa May’s conference appearance focused on comedic stunts and unfortunate coughing fits, you could be forgiven for missing the message - her commitment to renewing the ‘British Dream’. It would seem as though May has decided to tie the future of her premiership on her ability to make homeownership a realistic ambition once again. 

So, on 17 October she hosted a special summit with housebuilders at Number 10, in the knowledge that failing to deliver on her promise to fix Britain’s housing market could have wide-reaching consequences on not only her own career but also on her party’s electoral chances.

With Labour waiting in the wings, senior Tories within the cabinet, including communities secretary Sajid Javid, are understood to be pushing for a radical rethink on housing policy and speculation is growing that chancellor Philip Hammond will offer tax breaks to young people to help them onto the housing ladder. 

Having always prided themselves on being the party of homeowners, the Conservatives seem to have awoken to the danger of generation rent. As Theresa May acknowledged herself during her conference speech, home ownership among 25-34 year olds has fallen from 59% to 38% in just over a decade - the same demographic who were in part behind Jeremey Corbyn’s late surge to strip the government of its majority.

Yesterday’s summit was supposed to be about the prime minister laying down a challenge to housebuilders to construct additional homes. Yet housebuilders are likely to have used the meeting to make clear that, whilst they welcome the extra £2bn funding already announced for new affordable homes, the success of the plan will depend on the government’s willingness to remove other obstacles to building. As we await the chancellor’s budget on 22 November, housebuilders are going to need more than just rhetoric and money - significant changes to Britain’s planning and construction policy will be necessary too.

Key to this will be whether the government is prepared to accept the need for a bold set of reforms across the sector, including green belt, planning, land and finance. In the past, fear of a backlash in middle England has prevented Conservatives from making such significant reforms, but if she is serious about reigniting the dream of home ownership among Britain’s younger generation Theresa May will have to take a much braver and bolder stance on housebuilding than any other recent prime minister. 

The cumulative effect of years of rhetoric rather than delivery on housebuilding means it is now a political necessity for Theresa May to unlock the shackles that have, for too long, prevented housebuilders from building the homes that Britain needs.

Zak Deakin is a junior consultant in the engagement team at Iceni Projects.