One Year On: Same Difference?

This coming weekend there will be a spate of ‘one year on’ articles in the property press and elsewhere analysing how the Coalition has performed in its first 12 months.

Undeniably, initiatives from Grant Shapps and Eric Pickles have come thick and fast, like screams from a child overdosing on e-numbers.

HIPs and quangos have gone, Localism has arrived, with new rules on Homelessness and Housing Benefits. The New Homes Bonus is here and we have the concept of Flexible Rent and amended tenures for social housing tenants. Meanwhile Self-Build is flavour of the moment, and developers are urged to convert old commercial property into homes.

Full marks for initiative then, and their attendance has been good too - most of us, as estate agents or developers or regeneration experts or property journalists, have bumped into Shapps and/or Pickles at some time during the past 12 months.

This all appears a world away from the previous government. Labour, despite a philosophy of intervention, set new-build targets and density guidelines but otherwise effectively withdraw from housing completely as its ministers came and went within a few months.

Grant Shapps, by contrast, became shadow housing minister in June 2007, while Eric Pickles became shadow DCLG secretary just a month later. So between them they have almost six years working on the policies they are now implementing.

Yet the difficulty is, after the speeches and announcements have been dissected, where is the Coalition beef?

What are the results of the policies so repeatedly announced over the past year? The inability of anyone to show real results explains how - despite the extraordinary difference in style - the Coalition and Labour governments may not be so far apart.

The housing market outside central London is muted; first time buyers and mortgages remain scarce; housing starts and completions are stubbornly low; development funding is still tough; and few property industry insiders believe things will get better, even if some do not want to incur the wrath of politicians by saying so in public.

I could have written that sentence a year ago, commenting on the final year of the Brown administration; yet ironically this is what is being said now, often by those who hope they will be proven wrong and who are willing Shapps and Pickles to succeed.

There may still be four years left of this government, of course - plenty of time for doubters to be proven wrong. But some green shoots will have to appear soon: just the perception of greater mortgage availability, a press release from a developer who actually gives up land to self-build schemes, or a set of figures showing more new homes are being completed would be enough to satisfy most people that progress was being made.

Without that, the so-far muted dissent in the property industry will grow louder. Just as loud, perhaps, as it became in the dying days of the Brown government.

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