So what happened in yesterday’s budget for housing, announced by the wan Philip Hammond, a man with less colour in his complexion than Banquo’s ghost? Quite a few points actually.
1 Help to Buy
Help to Buy was extended for a further 2 years to 2023. It’s a scheme that has got many people into home ownership who would still be renting – so it is commendable, though I think it’s inevitably favoured the new build market and possibly, longer term, may affect resale values for those who didn’t climb on to (or were ineligible for) the Help to Buy wagon.
2 Stamp duty
In my experience, this is the single biggest obstacle to moving and it remains so. When we downsized two years ago, stamp duty was high on the purchase but the buyers of our £410,000 property were hit hard. Stamp duty stops people moving, in my opinion. It’s the biggest cost and that’s why so many estate agents work for say that the property market remains quite stagnant. Unless an estate agent offered to waive stamp duty (and that will never happen) on any property we were interested in, we would be reluctant to move. Pallid Philip abolished it last year for first time buyers for homes worth up to £300,000. Now he’s extended it to shared ownership of 25% to 75% of a home. The new limit is £500,000 which will presumably get a London buyer a garage in Kensington to share or a northern village. I like the idea. I bang on about cars with single occupants and I like the idea of two separate people buying a property and halving the mortgage and bills.
3 The High Street
Rest in peace. The internet and high taxation has murdered the high street. Debenhams paid £80 million in tax last year whilst Amazon paid £14 million. If Toys R Us, Debenhams, M and S, BHS buildings in town and city centres stand empty, there is a valid argument for converting these into homes. They’re in prime locations, often have ample parking attached (in the case of Toys R Us) and will breathe life back into high streets. I remember visiting a friend in Amiens who lived above a business in a flat in the heart of the city and there were no empty buildings, no ghost town feeling, instead ample footfall and a general sense of community. I felt this in Leamington Spa a few weeks ago, but many British towns are depressingly empty and grim. Repopulating them is a good start.
4 More homes
Phil put £500 million in the Housing Infrastructure Fund, used by councils for building homes. There’s something deeply ironic about a government (that legacy under Thatcher) who sold off social housing and created a mini nation of council estate Tory voters and set about emasculating them further with the Multi Academy Trust programme that they are now prodding the same beleaguered councils to build 650,000 new homes and nine housing associations to build 13,000 more. Royston Vasey’s land will benefit too as that and 499 other local communities will be able to allocate land, build and sell to local people for local prices. The cap (snapback?) on councils to borrow money to build council houses is also scrapped.
Ostensibly then, from my perspective, the budget did seem a good one for housing. I still think stamp duty needs seriously addressing for all buyers – if it’s the biggest impediment for me sticking a For Sale board on the lawn and moving, I’m sure it is for others. The town centre idea is a great one in my opinion, as long as planning regulations are maintained. A large out of town commercial units can’t simply be partitioned and people scooped in. Architects need involvement in making these fit for living and sleeping and not just shopping.
Finally, I invite Philip Hammond to get some Vitamin D along with the rest of parliament – they all look like the Walking Dead, presumably because they never get fresh air. Phil, come walk my dog with me, and I promise you won’t end up in a Norfolk ditch with twenty mortal gashes on your head. Don’t bring TM though – her dancing alarms both me and Cassie.