Comment: My letter to our illusive housing minister
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According to Simon Gerrard, managing director of Martyn Gerrard estate agents, the government are failing to deliver a strategic approach in response to the housing crisis
If you ask any Londoner what their biggest challenge living in the city is, most would say property. Not only are many younger people struggling to get on the ladder, but the cost of moving and a lack of suitable homes is stopping second steppers, often growing families, from moving up it. What is clear is that drastic action is needed. Our government have become very effective at talking about solving the housing crisis, yet delivering no tangible policies for doing so.
Back in September, I sent a letter to our new housing minister, Alok Sharma, suggesting two key changes I think could make a real difference. However, Mr Sharma has proved rather tricky to pin down. It appears he has been in hiding since his appointment, only emerging to give his first public address 90 days into his new role, which in itself was extremely underwhelming.
Our governments, both past and present, have made a rather irritating habit of appointing ministers with zero industry experience. Being a trained accountant I have no doubt Mr Sharma has a grasp on the numbers but does he understand the nitty gritty of this industry? I am yet to be convinced.
While his first speech provided a plethora of snappy soundbites, the detail must have gone amiss. Pledges to increase the number and quality of homes, as well as making it easier for first time buyers to get on the property ladder are all positive notions, but where is the detail? How will these promises be turned into action?
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It is this failure to deliver a detailed strategic approach that led me to write to Mr Sharma outlining my concerns and offer practical policy suggestions for effective and tangible change.
Increasing the number of properties available in the UK market is a fundamental priority. However in order to start building you need the land to do it on. A time-restricted capital gains tax moratorium would encourage landowners, who currently have little incentive, to sell parcels of land capable of development and enable much-needed new housing to be built. A painfully simple, yet effective policy.
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Secondly, those looking to move on to or up the ladder face a costly hurdle: stamp duty. Despite calls to scrap or reduce it, I appreciate this would detrimentally hit the government’s coffers. Therefore reversing stamp duty so it is payable for those selling, not buying, would actively encourage homeowner aspirations, rather than taxing them, and go some way to helping out first-time buyers.
I have since had a response to my letter, following a 2 month wait. Alas, not from Mr Sharma’s office, but the treasury. Unfortunately, what is made clear from the lack of engagement and enthusiasm in the treasury’s response, is that my policy suggestions have simply not been properly understood. The treasury’s response only emphasises the lack of government commitment to engage with those on the front line of the industries they claim to represent.
With house prices still ridiculously out of reach for younger generations and an embarrassing provision of social and affordable housing, the government is walking an extremely fine line. Housing consultation announcements are all well and good as long and the industry’s movers and shakers are heard and taken seriously, and idle soundbites and politicking are left firmly out of the agenda. Empty promises and dismissal of those concerned enough to speak up shows the government’s lack of commitment to repairing one of the cornerstones of the UK economy. What will it take to make them listen?