A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action....

As we all know, Peter Redfern is critical to the future of the British housing market and....

What? Wait? You don’t know who Peter Redfern is? Really?

Well, let’s be honest about this. Until a few days ago, he wasn’t a familiar name to me either, despite being a perfectly honourable and successful individual as chief executive of Taylor Wimpey, one of the country’s leading volume house builders.

But his significance for the housing market extends beyond that because he has been named as the chair of a review, commissioned by the Labour Party, into the causes of falling home ownership, future home ownership trends, and ‘the housing crisis’.

His review will not be partisan in terms of its membership. It is unclear as to the political allegiance of Redfern himself, and the other review members are known to be scrupulously independent and well-regarded in the property industry; they include Dame Kate Barker from Credit Suisse (we’ll come back to her in a moment), Terrie Alafat, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, and Ian Mulheirn of Oxford Economics.

This team will conclude the review by the end of this summer and will report back to Labour’s highly-respected front-bench housing spokesman John Healey, himself a former housing minister in the days of Gordon Brown’s premiership.

So far, so worthy: but haven’t we been here before? And more than once?

In little more than a decade, three other independent reviews with broadly similar remits (“fix the housing problem” in other words) have been commissioned by governments or parties. For those who missed them, ignored them and never heard of them, they were:

1. Barker Review of 2004

Chaired by – yes, you guessed it – the same Kate Barker who is now on the Redfern Review, this review was regarded as extremely important at the time and recommended:

- the government to help with measures to make homes more affordable;
- additional public spending of up to £1.6 billion per year on social housing;
- additional ‘planning gain’ so communities and councils benefitted more from new housing schemes;
- changes to local and regional planning processes to allow better, quicker decisions;
- measures to identify sites and unlock other barriers to development.

2. Calcutt Review of 2007

Focusing chiefly on how to deliver more new homes and chaired by John Callcutt, then chief executive of volume housebuilder Crest Nicholson. it recommended:

- more edge-of-town settlements;
- brownfield development intensified and greenfield development minimised;
- more partnerships between councils, developers and government to identify and prepar land, and speed planning processes;
- government to stipulate faster build-out of landbanks if involved in joint ventures or partnerships with private builders.

3. Lyons Review of 2014

Chaired by former BBC chairman Sir Michael Lyons, this review was commissioned for Labour but was very well received by the property industry as a whole and recommended:

- speeding up planning processes;
- stronger government powers to force councils to prepare five-year housing-led plans;
- strengthening council powers to compulsorily purchase land;
- politicians lead on the need to identify and build on sites, and not continue what it called an ‘artificial shortage’ of sites because of local opposition to development;
- planning permission lifetimes cut from five to two years to encourage faster building;
- more flexibility on council borrowing to fund house building;
- new-builds to be made available to local owner-occupier buyers as a priority;
- changes to Right To Buy to allow ‘one-for-one’ replacement with new social housing.

So do you see what I mean by “we’ve been here before”?

With all respect to Peter Redfern and his colleagues – and they deserve respect, because their task is not easy and all-too-often is thankless – it is nonetheless difficult to imagine what they can come up with that will be more innovative and practical than many of those recommendations produced over the past 12 years from the three previous reviews.

What differs now is that the housing shortage is worse, the need greater and the problem arguably higher on the political agenda.

What is missing from the three reports listed above – and I bet from the Redfern Review when it reports this year – is one additional recommendation.

That is, that politicians should stop kicking the issue into the long grass by ordering more analysis and more discussion, and instead take action on the findings of those past reviews.

This blog post first appeared on the Industry Views section of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today

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