I am sure they are fine men and women at Knight Frank, although like the rest of the property sector, I tend to class them as natural Tory supporters. But they now say that according to a survey of 50 house building firms, 70% of the industry are now Labour supporters.
The Tory government has thrown money at house builders, although in an admittedly round-about fashion. Subsidising mortgages for home buyers, as the government did with its “Help to Buy” scheme, just forces up house prices because it introduces into the market a new group of people with taxpayer-subsidised mortgages looking to buy. Demand increases, supply doesn’t, and so prices go up. House builders and shareholders make large profits, all subsidised by the taxpayer.
But there is a way for home builders to make even more money and that is for the government to allow them to build houses. This government has not built lots of houses, has not encouraged the building of lots of houses or even allowed the building of lots of houses.
As Knight Frank rather delicately puts it: “The Conservative Party has long sought to walk a fine line between building enough homes in places that aspiring homeowners would like to live, while avoiding upsetting existing homeowners in rural constituencies that are wary of new development.”
Or, as the rest of us might put it, the Nimby’s have taken over what passes for a planning process in this country, and the Conservative government has let them, because they vote Conservative. There have been so many relaunches and reforms of the planning system that I have lost count, but now local home building targets are “advisory” only. “Giving NIMBY’s a veto on all and any new housebuilding”, would have been a more honest way of putting it.
An additional problem is that there have been 15 housing ministers since 2010, which means their average tenure was probably shorter than the time necessary to build a single house. If you take planning law into account then a new house will have taken at least three or four ministers’ careers to build.
The government has a target of 300,000 new homes a year and it will come as no surprise to hear that it has failed to hit it by a massive margin. Things are also about to get worse. The delivery of bricks, a sure guide to future levels of house construction, was down a third in December, and is at the lowest level since 2009. A recession in the industry is coming and even fewer houses will be built in 2024.
Labour’s plans are to allow more home building – I know no more details than that and I suspect the housing industry doesn’t either, but they don’t really need to.
After 14 years of Tory rule the government has made such a mess of building enough homes, that the construction industry would probably vote for a bag of cement with a red rosette pinned on it.