Property developer sponsors Tory conference – The beneficiaries of Help-to-Buy have put their name around party members’ necks.

“The housing crisis has become a central issue in British politics, with a shortage of social housing forcing millions into expensive, shabby private rentals; locking a generation out of home ownership; and causing a massive increase in street homelessness.

Help to Buy, a government-backed loan to supplement mortgages for first-time buyers, remains the Conservatives’ biggest housing intervention. But it sucks.

Even the Tory press thinks it’s rubbish. Last month, the Daily Mail’s Money Editor wrote that Help to Buy was a “flawed plan” that “would bump up house prices, boost builders’ profits and increase debt”. In the same month, the normally Tory-supporting Times analysed the Help to Buy figures and argued that “while it has boosted profits for house builders, it has failed to provide the greater supply of new homes that is needed”. The Times worried that even those lucky enough to get a Help to Buy house might now be stuck in “negative equity”, with “young people … being left in overpriced homes that they will struggle to sell”.

For its part, the solidly Tory Sun also worries that sticking with Help to Buy and failing to offer something to increasingly angry private renters could cost the Tories the next election.

So why is the government so keen on the scheme? The answer could literally be around the necks of delegates at this year’s Tory conference. The Conservative party sells advertising space, charging corporations to brand the lanyards that house the security passes conference attendees must wear at all times inside the Conference “secure zone”. Lanyards for this year’s Conservative Conference in Birmingham bear the name “Thakeham Homes”, a property developer making profits with help from Help to Buy.

Thakeham Homes is a Sussex-based residential property developer with an extensive “landbank” throughout the Home Counties. According to its latest accounts, Thakeham believes it is doing well because of “low interest rates and increased demand from first time buyers, supported by Help to Buy”.

In 2018, Thakeham’s turnover jumped 64 percent, to around £30 million. The company’s profits jumped from £100,000 to £4 million. The firm says that Help to Buy helped it boost its business; according to the accounts, “the adaptation of our planning strategy to increase the percentage of Help to Buy eligible properties within our schemes has yielded an increased sales rate and has enabled our resilience in light of the effects of Brexit on the wider market”.

Thakeham says it is “encouraged by continued political support” for Help to Buy, and seems to be encouraging that “continued political support” by giving the governing party cash. According to Conservative Party sales brochures, Lanyard Sponsorship costs around £16,500 (2016 brochure).

Thakeham’s sponsorship extends beyond lanyards. Thakeham Homes began donating to the Tories in 2017 and have now given £107,00 in total.

I asked Thakeham if its Conservative donations were a way of encouraging continued government support for Help to Buy. Their spokesperson: “Yes, we do donate to the Conservative Party and we think it is important as over 50 percent of our construction is for public sector partners. Thakeham contract builds for housing associations and local councils; placemaking and seeking to enhance and create new communities.”

He added: “The amount of product we sell via Help to Buy is small in proportion when compared to our contract build for housing associations and local councils for whom we deliver affordable homes.”

Help to Buy was introduced by Chancellor George Osborne in 2013. It offers a zero-interest loan to buyers of new-build houses costing up to £600,000. Loans are worth up to 20 percent of the cost. The Treasury has loaned a whopping £7 billion on the scheme – that’s a massive and much-criticised intervention in the market.

The criticisms will continue to be made – even from those sympathetic to the Tories. But money also talks. Thakeham is not the only firm benefitting from the multi-billion scheme who in turn give the Conservative Party cash.

In 2015, companies owned by businessman John Bloor started donating to the Tories. Bloor’s firms have since donated £1 million, and Bloor has attended Tory dinners with Theresa May, Philip Hammond and other ministers. Most of Bloor’s money comes from his housebuilding firm, Bloor Homes. According to its latest company accounts, Bloor Homes’ turnover is up 27 percent to £917 million. Profits have leapt by 58 percent, to £152 million. The average price of each Bloor home sold has increased from £275,000 to £300,000 in a year.

The accounts explain this performance by saying “the housing market has been strong” thanks to “the government backed Help to Buy scheme”.

I asked John Bloor Homes if the Bloor donations were a way of encouraging continuation of the Help to Buy scheme. A spokesperson said: “Bloor Homes continues to provide, via various tenure and financial structures, much needed housing from social rent all the way through to private ownership, driven by clear demographic and affordability demands.”

There are also jobs for Tories in Help to Buy firms. Since 2016, Angela Knight has been a director of housing firm Taylor Wimpey. She is paid £60,000 a year for this part-time “Non-Executive” job on the board. Knight was a former Conservative minister who is still “in” with top Tories. In fact, George Osborne – who launched Help to Buy – also gave Knight a job at the Treasury, which runs the scheme. Knight is currently the Treasury’s “Chair of the Office for Tax Simplification”. According to Taylor Wimpey’s accounts, the firm made £589 million in profit this year, with around 39 percent of sales relying on Help to Buy.

If the Sun is right, backing Help to Buy instead of investing in more social homes and regulating rents could sink the Tories, as voters hurt by the housing crisis desert the party. But the donations from Help to Buy-backed companies – not to mention the post-ministerial jobs they offer – might encourage them to stick with the scheme.

@SolHughesWriter”

https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/xwpvva/developers-who-got-rich-off-tory-housing-policy-are-sponsoring-conference

Why falling house prices can be a bad thing

“… An analysis released this week by the property firm Savills spelled out just one of the reasons why [a downturn in property prices could be a bad thing].

A property downturn could, it estimated, reduce the number of affordable homes being built by a quarter. When prices fall, developers’ profits shrink and they retreat from the market. And when developers stop building, promises to stop future buyers being locked out of the market by building 300,000 new homes a year aren’t worth the manifestos they were written on.

What was striking about the former cabinet minister Oliver Letwin’s recent report on land banking – the much-hyped practice of developers buying up land and sitting on it while it rises in value – was that he found precious little evidence of it happening. What he did find was developers building on their sites painfully slowly, over the course of several years, because they won’t do anything that causes neighbourhood property prices to fall. A glut of for-sale boards going up all at once means buyers can take their pick and haggle hard over prices. This may be exactly what first-time buyers need but it’s what developers are primed to avoid.

The problem with relying on the market to provide is that the market works to ration the one thing voters hope mass housebuilding programmes will deliver. And that’s in good times; imagine what happens when everyone is scrabbling frantically to protect their investment in a downturn. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/30/if-house-price-crash-sounds-like-good-news-think-again

Housing minister threatens councils on housing numbers – NOT developers!

The Express headline is:

‘Make their EYES water!’ Housing minister WARNING to councils who FAIL to meet targets

and the article goes on to blame councils for low housing numbers rather than developers who are hoarding hundreds of thousands of planning permissions, trickling out completions to keep house prices artificially high.

Message to Minister: stop shooting own foot, stop shooting councils, start squeezing developers till THEIR pips squeak!

Oh, and that bit about “developers starting on site” within two years. Legally, all they have to do is put in minimal foundations then they can leave the site unbuilt for as long as they want.

“Kit Malthouse MP was speaking to Nick Ferrari on national radio this morning to explain how the Tories are intending to “up the ante” for both developers and council planning teams so as to roll out new housing.

Mr Malthouse cited the introduction of a new scheme, the ‘Housing Delivery Test’, as one way in which the government’s building objectives might be more effectively met.

He said councils “have to hit a certain percentage of the forecast housing in their plan, and if they don’t we essentially take it out of their hands.

“If they drop below 85 percent of delivery they have to use an action plan, but if they drop below 25 percent delivery the government takes it out of their hands and they lose the ability to control a certain amount of housing in their area.”

“We want them to issue two year planning permissions, not three or five years, and if the developer doesn’t start on site within the two years that they’re able to say ‘your site’s out now’.

“You only have to do it once or twice for the development community to realise that we’re serious about this.”

The Minister explained that the Tories would give developers “big tools” to compel them to develop.

He concluded: “We’re putting big pressure on local authorities, big pressure on developers to come together.

“I do feel sometimes a bit like a marriage guidance councillor between the two because they do all shout at each other and point across the table at events that I’m at.”

Ministers say they will build 300,000 new homes a year, considerably up on the current build rate and more than in any year since the 1960s.

But a survey for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) found that only 12 percent of members expressed any confidence in that number of new homes being delivered.”

“Developers hog land for record 130,000 homes, analysis reveals”

“Developers are sitting on land for more than 130,000 homes in England that have never been built – the worst gap on record, according to new analysis.

The record gap between planning permissions granted and new homes being built has led to calls for tough new penalties to be enforced against developers that sit on land rather than build.

… The analysis of housing ministry (MCHLG) figures showed that in 2016-17, planning permission for 313,700 new homes was given, but only 183,570 homes built, meaning a notional annual gap of more than 130,000 homes, the biggest divergence since records began in 2006.

The percentage of homes built versus permission granted was just 58%, a rate that has been roughly steady since 2012.

… Landowners sell at a price that factors in a significant increase in value after obtaining planning consent, meaning a hectare of agricultural land worth £20,000 can sell for closer to £2m if it is zoned for housing. Developers regularly deny using land to speculate, arguing more profit can usually be made from building.

Labour is considering a policy to give the Land Trust powers to buy sites at closer to the lower price, by changing the 1961 Land Compensation Act so the state could compulsorily purchase land at a price that excluded the potential for future planning consent. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/oct/25/developers-hog-land-for-record-130000-homes-analysis-reveals

“Landowners to be forced to sacrifice profits for more affordable houses, under plans expected to be unveiled in budget”

Owl says: Oh, the poor, poor darlings! We must set up a charity or a crowdfunding page for them. We could make the aim of the charity “To unite Tory developer donors to pressurise government to create other ways of making obscene profits”.

“Councils would be able to strip landowners of large portions of profits from the sale of their land, under proposals expected to be unveiled in the Budget, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.

An official review commissioned by Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, is to endorse controversial calls for the state to “capture” more of the increase in value of sites when they are granted planning permission.

Sir Oliver Letwin, the former minister carrying out the review, is expected to recommend that local authorities should be able to seize greater amounts of landowners’ profits in order to fund the construction of local infrastructure such as roads and affordable homes. …”

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/10/20/landowners-forced-sacrifice-profits-affordable-houses-plans/

“A land banking scandal is controlling the future of British housing”

“How often have you heard private developers and their allies say they can’t build more homes because planning rules have created a shortage of land?

Kate Andrews of the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) summed up this view in The Daily Telegraph, saying: “There is only one way to solve the housing crisis and bring down the extortionate cost of homes: liberalise the planning system and build more houses. A bold but pragmatic policy would be to release greenbelt land – just a small fraction of which would be enough to build the million homes needed to address supply.”

A million more homes? That’s a tantalising prospect. So is there any basis for her argument that the only way to solve this problem is to liberalise (or deregulate) planning?

A little digging into the latest financial reports of the top 10 housebuilders reveals a very different story. Between them, they have a staggering 632,785 building plots on their books, of which more than half have planning permission. At the same time, these 10 companies reported building a total of just 79,704 homes – which means they have, on average, eight-years’ worth of plots in their land banks at the current rate of construction.

Among the top 10, there is a wide variation. At the upper end, Berkeley and Taylor Wimpey are hoarding 15 and 13 years’ worth of land respectively. At the lower end, McCarthy & Stone and Bellway have land banks equivalent to four years’ current output. The difference is mainly in what are known as the ‘strategic’ land banks – reserves that have not yet gained planning permission. All ten have ample land with consent, ranging from three to five years’ worth of output.

The top 10 builders accounted for about half of the 159,510 homes completed by the private sector in 2017.

It is often the case that the stories an industry feeds to the media are at odds with the trading information individual companies give shareholders via regulated stock market announcements. A classic example of this is car insurance where the industry body complained of an “epidemic of fraud” while the major providers told the market that claims volumes were falling.

In the case of housing, the market reports of the top 10 builders are brimming with confidence about future trading. You might expect Bellway, for example, to be feeling the pinch from a supposedly burdensome planning system because of its smaller-than-average land bank. But its trading update in August said that it had detailed planning permission on all its 2019 building plots and had increased land acquisition by 12 per cent to an annual level 30 per cent higher than its output. “The land market remains favourable and continues to provide attractive opportunities,” the company said.

The top 10 builders accounted for about half of the 159,510 homes completed by the private sector in 2017. So, what about the other players? Information is patchy because many are private companies, but random checks on those that are publicly listed suggest that smaller housebuilders also hold enough land to keep them going for years.

And then there are the companies that combine building homes with developing sites to sell on to other builders. The latest trading update from Inland Homes, for example, said that in the first six months of this year it has built 357 units and sold 837 plots to other housebuilders but still has 6,808 in its land bank – nearly six times as many as it built on or sold.

The pattern is clear: across the private housebuilding sector big land banks are the norm. If the top 10 companies – equating to half the market – are hoarding 600,000-plus plots, it is safe to assume that well over a million plots are in the land banks of the sector as a whole. Far from needing greenbelt land, the builders already have enough plots to deliver a step-change.

But will they? The IEA believes ‘markets’ solve economic and social problems, but the last 30 years have shown that is certainly not the case with housebuilding. When Margaret Thatcher slashed funding for council housing in the 1980s, the idea was that the private sector would fill the gap. But it didn’t happen: while the number of homes built by councils slumped from 110,170 in 1978 to 1,740 in 1996, private sector output stayed at much the same level as it was under Labour in the 1970s. With housing association output also virtually unchanged, total housebuilding has halved from more than 300,000 annually under Jim Callaghan to an average of 154,000 since 2010.

This situation suits housebuilders nicely. Constrained supply has helped push up the average price of a new house by 38 per cent since 2010, against an average of 30 per cent for all houses. And booming prices have in turn generated record-breaking profits and dividends. Taylor Wimpey, for example, cleared a £52,947 profit on each of the 6,497 houses it sold (at an average price of £295,000) in the first six months of 2018 and was able to promise shareholders that it would pay out £600m in dividends in 2019, a 20 per cent increase on 2018.

The government has responded to growing anger about land banks by setting up a review under Tory MP Oliver Letwin to “explain” why the “build-out rate” on land with planning permission is so slow. Letwin’s interim report has already admitted that housebuilders complete homes at a pace “designed to protect their profits”. His final report is due in time for the Autumn Budget, but don’t expect anything radical: he has made clear that his recommendations won’t “impair” the housebuilders.

Labour, meanwhile, has published a wide-ranging green paper promising “the biggest council housebuilding programme for over 30 years” delivering more than 100,000 “genuinely affordable” homes annually. To achieve this, Labour would use existing public land, such as sites owned by the NHS and the Ministry of Defence, and set up a Sovereign Land Trust to work with local authorities in England to help them acquire land at lower prices. Taking inspiration from the 1945 Labour government, it would also legislate to create another generation of new towns and garden cities.

Labour’s policy would, in effect, draw a line under the Thatcher era by restoring to the public sector the proactive role it played in providing housing prior to the 1980s. In doing so, it would limit the scope for the big housebuilders to hoover up nearly all the available sites and hoard them in order to drive up prices and profits. As for planning, far from being the cause of the housing crisis, it would be a means of solving it.

Steve Howell is a journalist and author of Game Changer, the story of Labour’s 2017 election campaign.”

https://www.bigissue.com/latest/finance/a-land-banking-scandal-is-controlling-the-future-of-british-housing/

“Landowners Pocket £13bn Profit In One Year Just For Getting Planning Permission”

Is there an election in the air? Tories talking about removing the “stigma” of social housing! You know, the housing they don’t build because, as George Osborne said – why would you when Labour supporters live in them!

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tories-refused-to-build-social-housing-because-it-would-create-labour-voters-nick-clegg-says-a7223796.html

“Landowners pocketed a staggering £13bn in profit last year simply for securing planning permission while a housing crisis continues to grip the nation.

Research by the Centre for Progressive Policy and the National Housing Federation has unmasked how land-holders are raising massive sums simply for being a proprietor.

Agricultural land now becomes 275 times more expensive once it receives planning permission, even before a single home is built. This is a huge uplift from just two years ago when planning permission increased the value of farmland by around 100 times.

It means proprietors are effectively sitting on a goldmine once planners green-light development on a site they own.

The CPP and NHF report found landowners’ combined profits were more than the global profits of Amazon, McDonald’s and Coca Cola combined and has increased by £4bn over the course of two years to reach £13bn.

Theresa May is due to announce that £2bn of Government funds will be directed towards housing associations to give them long-term certainty they need to build homes.

But the NHF and CPP say a radical overhaul is needed so some land sales profits can be captured and ploughed into the public purse for new affordable housing and infrastructure, such as roads.

David Orr, chief executive of the NHS, said: “This research shows the astronomical sums that landowners have been able to pocket, before they even build a single new home. At the same time, the numbers of people in desperate need of social housing is sky rocketing – we have to build 90,000 new homes for social rent every year to meet this need.

“In the face of a disastrous housing crisis, it is clear that the the broken housing market is simply not delivering. What’s more, the way we buy and sell land is the key cause. Now, we need a fundamental rethink to tackle this fundamental problem.”

It comes as house prices and demand for social homes soar, with housing associations trying to build council housing for poorer families increasingly outbid on land by private developers.

May, who will address the National Housing Federation Summit in London on Wednesday, said the £2bn will be separate to the £9bn of public funding put toward the existing affordable homes programme until 2022.

She will also focus on ending what she calls the “stigma” attached to social housing, claiming some view tenants are “not second-rate citizens”.

The PM will say: “Some residents feel marginalised and overlooked, and are ashamed to share the fact that their home belongs to a housing association or local authority.

“On the outside, many people in society – including too many politicians – continue to look down on social housing and, by extension, the people who call it their home.”

Gavin Smart, deputy chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said recognition of the social housing sector from the PM was welcome, and added: “But, as the Prime Minister recognises in her speech, it’s crucial that government investment helps housing associations to build the right kind of homes at the right prices.

“In practice this means building more homes at the lowest social rents – which is often the only truly affordable option for people on lower incomes.”

Labour also hit out at the Government plans.

John Healey, Shadow Housing Secretary, said: “Theresa May’s promises fall far short of what’s needed.

“The reality is spending on new affordable homes has been slashed so the number of new social rented homes built last year fell to the lowest level since records began.”

The English housing survey 2016/17 reported that 3.9 million households, approximately nine million people, lived in the social rented sector – which was 17% of households in the country.

The survey added 10% rented from housing associations and 7% from local authorities.

By contrast, 20% of households were private rented and 63% owner-occupied.”

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/landowners-pocket-ps13bn-profit-in-one-year-just-for-getting-planning-permission_uk_5ba12638e4b046313fbfe3ee