Just before 3.30pm yesterday I sat down with the L&Q communications team to watch the 2018 budget. With the BBC filming down at Barking Riverside we were confident that housing, the government’s number one domestic priority, was going to be front and centre in the chancellor’s speech.
We opened the popcorn as Philip Hammond took to his feet.
In a bullish mood he opened with a welcome to the end of austerity. Such an audacious start surely had to be followed by equally audacious investment plans.
It seemed we were right as he announced plans for Brexit, health, social care, defence – big numbers from a man with deep pockets. It was looking good for housing.
But then he moved on to his plans for school halls, potholes and public lavatories. And we started to think that housing, the PM’s number one domestic priority, had been forgotten. Maybe number twos were more important than number ones.
“The sky was not lit with the thousand sparks of an audacious housing announcement.”
“He is saving the best until last,” suggested one optimistic member of the L&Q team as we chewed on our popcorn – in the same way the biggest firework is always saved until the end of the show. And sure enough, he eventually got to housing.
Mr Hammond started with a reminder that £44bn had already been earmarked for housing, announcing a second wave of nine housing association strategic partnerships and committing to further relief and investment in a number of other areas.
But there was no last housing firework. We all looked skyward. No mighty blast, the sky was not lit with the thousand sparks of an audacious housing announcement.
On the train home I reflected. And it seemed to me that what is more interesting is what the chancellor didn’t say, or barely mentioned.
Lifting the local authority borrowing cap is potentially massive. With the Local Government Association claiming a £320bn addition to the economy over 50 years and local authorities standing ready to deliver 100,000 homes every year, this alone could be a game changer.
A careful start with 9,000 homes over the next five years, but we all start from nothing.
“Housing associations face a choice – to hand over the future to new market entrants or seize this opportunity with both hands.”
Sir Oliver Letwin’s recommendations for the build out of large sites are radical. All large sites delivering maximum tenure diversity, local authority powers to buy at a capped value; with new local authority borrowing powers this could shift the tectonic plates of housing.
Also included was the rise of private provision for affordable housing and an emboldened, determined and newly empowered Homes England driving change and demanding more, better, faster.
And a challenge from the PM to all housing associations: we have given you everything you asked for, now you must deliver.
Together these things could unite the public and private sectors to deliver a step change in housing supply.
Today, the day after the Budget, housing associations face a choice – to hand over the future to new market entrants or seize this opportunity with both hands.
Housing associations have at the core of their social purpose a burning ambition to deliver. Now we must do just that.
This article was first published in Inside Housing.