Well, that was unexpected. The general election is now over, and the voters have delivered the surprising result of a hung parliament – a result that has big implications for the property market.
Let’s start with the positives. While the election campaign was not generally an inspiring affair, we can take cheer from the fact that the issues faced by the property market were given such focus. All of the main parties were very clear about just how crucial addressing the housing crisis is, though their suggested solutions were significantly different.
While the Conservatives pledged to work with “ambitious, pro-development” local authorities to increase housing production, Labour promised to dramatically ramp up the number of affordable homes produced each year. As for the Liberal Democrats, their manifesto included a promise to establish a Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank, which would ensure funding was in place to produce 300,000 new homes.
What this demonstrates is that all of the parties were well aware that housing is a hugely important subject to the nation at large, and one which voters want to see resolved soon. It is clear that the time for talking is over.
Ordinarily, there would be relief that a general election campaign is over from a practical sense. Uncertainty and the property market make uneasy bedfellows – homebuyers and investors alike tend to pause, to hold off making a move when there are questions about what the future holds. It was a similar story this time last year, with the Brexit vote which prompted many within the property market to take a step back and adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach.
Most people within the property industry would have hoped for a clear result either way, to remove that uncertainty and see housing activity kick on. Of course in practice, the hung parliament has provided far more uncertainty than we could have expected.
Another unfortunate piece of news is that the tradition of a high turn over when it comes to housing ministers is set to continue, as Gavin Barwell loses his seat in Croydon Central.
We have had 14 different ministers since 1997. Given barely enough time to get a grip on the brief before they are shuffled into another role, it is little wonder that major progress still needs to be made in the area. Solving the housing crisis will take time, so time needs to be given to a single housing minister – whoever that may be – in order to ensure a consistent approach is taken.
The days of the housing brief being seen as a stepping stone onto more glamorous roles within the Government ranks must end, with the next housing minister holding onto the role for at least a five-year term.
As the housing crisis remains one of the most important facing the government, so it is disappointing that the role of housing minister does not merit a place in the full Cabinet. This really has to change – housing should not merely be a small section of the Department for Communities and Local Government, but a full department in its own right. Interestingly, this was actually something proposed by the Labour Party in their manifesto, and it’s something that we wholeheartedly agree with.
Promoting the housing brief to a full Cabinet post would be a huge statement of intent, demonstrating just how seriously the government is taking the issue and how committed it is to actually tackling it.
It would also mean that housing has a proper voice at the highest level of Government, a place at the table when it comes to the biggest discussions. There is enormous crossover between housing and issues like transport and employment, so it is only right that the housing minister has a seat at the top table.
It’s clear that tackling the problems in the housing market must be a priority for the next government. Let’s hope that the next housing minister is finally given the backing to do so.
Matt Tooth is chief commercial officer at LendInvest