Five Big Rows For Housing In 2012

2012 may look right now as if it will be dominated by Royal anniversaries and Olympic Games but in reality these may be short-lived feel-good spells - in property terms, the year ahead in the UK is much more likely to be dominated by five big issues.

1. House-building volumes: Christmas is always a good time to bury bad news and the Home Builders' Federation figures showing that planning approvals for new homes in Q3 2011 were 10 per cent down on a year earlier were lost in the pre-Yuletide noise. The HBF chose to interpret it as justification for the government's planning reforms, but others may simply say the coalition is failing to deliver after 20 months in power. Next year it has to build more homes...or else Shapps' and Pickles' jobs may be on the line. Flashpoint: every quarter, if the latest batch of start-figures are as bad as those of December 2011.

2. Offices-into-resi: the Corporation of London is leading opposition to the call to turn redundant blocks into homes, arguing that it needs spare capacity to soak up demand when an economic upturn begins. Some other councils agree while more are using that as a smokescreen to disguise their worry that they will lose S106-style windfalls if conversion becomes too easy. Flashpoint - next autumn.

3. Planning reform: the biggest rows have been and gone and the Coalition has forever lost the trust (and PR value) of Middle England organisations like the National Trust, CPRE and the Telegraph. If the government pushes through the changes, it will be expected to deliver an increase in homes almost immediately - but if the government caves in to opponents as some expect, the housebuilders will start giving Shapps and Pickles the cold shoulder and will blame politicians for not increasing housebuilding.

4. London housing: A shortage of affordable new homes in the council... What Boris Johnson called the 'ethnic cleansing' of the capital by limits on housing-related benefits... Planning policies in the boroughs... The prospect of London-specific (and higher than national) S106 and Community Infrastructure Levy payments by developers. There will be talk of all this and more as Johnson and Ken Livingstone slug it out to become London mayor. Housing will be a central plank of campaigning and both major candidates are likely to be radical on the issue in their appeal to voters. Then expect most promises to be abandoned after election day. Flashpoint: May.

5. HS2: This is something of a local issue, but only because it suits the government for it to be seen that way. If the London-Birmingham rail link is either abandoned or 'put underground' for more of the route ('coincidentally' where some Coalition MPs have constituencies), the burden of blight will be lifted from many homes. Yet in later months, if interest rate rises push up repossessions for buy-to-let landlords and ordinary people outside the south east, expect a backlash. The issue will then go national as people ask why house prices and home ownership are bolstered in the affluent Chilterns and not elsewhere. Flashpoint: February for HS2 decision, next winter for interest rise fears.

Happy New Year!

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