The Only Way is Property Tsar
As we bid a sad farewell to Marcus Jones, many of you will be asking, ‘who?’
I can understand this entirely, as Mr Jones was of course our last housing minister who was in the role for a whole two months before the recent political reshuffle. This position has now been taken over by Lee Rowley, who is our 13th housing minister since 2010 no less. With his career background firmly in financial services, are we just adding to our property woes?
A distinct lack of property experience
Perhaps it is just me, but I find it utterly staggering that given the complexities and issues facing the property market and one which is a key sector in the economy, we have another minister making monumental decisions which affect us all, but with zero property experience. You would equally be hard pushed to find any of the previous ministers with any relevant expertise and who have stayed in the role beyond 18 months. Is there any wonder therefore that we find ourselves in such a convoluted knot?
The country’s best interests
To my way of thinking, there is only one way to have a clear strategy. This is to stop the constant revolving door scenario with housing ministers lasting moments in the role and muddying the waters to an already hazy set of circumstances. We need to remove all political interference and create a ‘Property Tsar’ that can look in the country’s best interests. Independent of all political parties and being used as a PR vehicle for political gain, they would get under the skin of the property market, to provide a long lasting plan which would help all levels of the market. Most importantly of course, they would have far ranging property experience, so they could fully understand the implications of any decisions they undertook.
If I were Property Tsar, there are a few key areas that I would immediately look at.
Convert existing properties
One of the most important I feel it to look at the types of properties we are building and where they are located. Currently the UK has just over 650,000 empty properties. So why aren’t these being used or sold on and why are we still continuing to build more properties? We have all long heard the pleas from young first time buyers saying they can’t get on the property ladder. What if we incentivised developers to actually convert properties that were already built into say one bedroom warehouse-type conversion apartments in town and city centres, rather than continuing to tarmac over green fields? The youngsters get more affordable starter homes, plus they are now where they want to be and they help reignite our dwindling urban economies. On the other side, the Tsar can look in detail at ‘affordable homes’ ie council homes. The tax structures to overcome the above can be easily applied and are currently weighted in the wrong direction I feel.
Bring the large scale PLC developers back in line
The other area of concern is that the large scale PLC developers are consistently in the news for questionable reasons – whether this be poor build quality, paying their business leaders excessively, land banking or lack of appropriate fire protection for example. This needs to immediately stop and the Tsar needs to be given the clout they deserve to bring this part of the sector in line. There needs to be more competition created, as regularly the smaller (often higher end quality) developers are side-lined for projects in preference for those listed on the stock exchange.
Lending to the banks
The Tsar also needs to take the question of lending to the banks. Now I am not saying for a moment we go back to the days of self-certified over the top lending, but the banks have now swung in the other direction and almost come across as not wishing to lend at all.
Whilst I have touched the surface of the issues we face, what is clear is that by having numerous ministers all put their two-penneth in during their brief time as housing minister, we haven’t come very far. It’s time to stop this carousel and put someone in charge who will last the course.