A considered view of real estate, investments and beyond

The politics of residential property investment Now that the political party conference season is over, Ian Fletcher, Director of Policy at the BPF, shares his thoughts on housing policy directions

The Guest Essay

New home under construction with sunlight coming through the rafters

With the season behind us, now is a good a time to consider what we gleaned from this year’s political party conferences in Bournemouth, Brighton and Manchester, and the implications for residential property investors.

Aside from the usual political theatre, there were some useful clues to the general directions of policy. Housing certainly matters more politically than it did a year ago, and for that we must thank millennials. The vicious circle of ‘they don’t vote so why focus on them’ has been broken, and the battle has commenced on whose policy can tempt these young renters, and would-be first time buyers, into their camp.

The Lib Dems, perhaps keen to get their new leader off to a safe start, didn’t really offer much new in Bournemouth. Vince Cable emphasised housing inequality, ticking the ‘millennials’ box. Much of the rest of his speech, however, was established party policy and Cable rhetoric.

“We must end the stranglehold of oligarchs and speculators in our housing market. I want to see fierce tax penalties on the acquisition of property for investment purposes, by overseas residents. I want to see rural communities protected from the blight of absentee second home ownership, which devastates local economies and pushes young people away from the places where they grew up.”

Whilst that will go down well with the party’s 12 MPs, mainly in London and rural seats, it didn’t really offer much for the rest of the country, and the argument that speculators are buying up central London property to leave empty has to large extent been discredited recently by research commissioned by London’s Mayor.

Cable did promise a doubling of annual housing supply to buy and rent, but didn’t really explain how that would be achieved, beyond garden cities and garden villages springing up in places where demand presently outstrips supply. However, many of the places where demand outstrips supply are already urban and not where a garden city or village is going to pop up any time soon.

Getting the election out of the way seems to have, if anything, emboldened the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid MP. He was at his most overt in his conference speech on the government’s efforts to increase housing supply. It was always the plan to give government policy on housing supply more teeth via the housing white paper. Specifically, the policy of standardising housing need assessments, and then holding local authorities’ feet to the fire through the Housing Delivery Test, will make life uncomfortable for many councils in the southern half of the country. See: Housing_Need_Consultation_Data_Table.xlsx

To be so overt about this pre-election would have been unthinkable, but now Javid can call a Nimby a Nimby and get away with it. Government is determined to increase supply and for investors that may mean more opportunities, but eventually also more homes.

As well as delivering more housing, quality is rising up the political agenda. The impact of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower has been felt beyond the social housing sector. Politicians are very much focused on ensuring that voters not only get a home, but a decent one, which provides greater security for those that want it.
For private-rented sector policy, politicians are increasingly looking north or west. Devolution has created very different regulatory regimes for private renting in the various constituent countries of the UK. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have pursued different policies and for the politician looking to change things in England, they offer an example of how things can be done differently.

Longer tenancies are therefore something that is on all politicians’ to-do lists. For Conservatives, it is something to encourage, and therefore talk of incentives at Budget time. For Labour, something to regulate to make happen.

The Guest Essay

About Ian Fletcher

Ian Fletcher

Ian Fletcher is Director of Policy (Real Estate) at the British Property Federation (BPF) – the trade association for the property investment sector. Ian speaks for the sector and his team covers a wide range of housing, commercial property, planning and sustainability issues. He was a member of the government’s Montague Review Group, which examined how to encourage greater institutional investment in rented housing, and is a long term champion of the nascent Build to Rent sector. He has also recently helped the government review the case for making client money protection compulsory for letting agents. Away from the BPF, Ian has recently stepped down from chairing the committee of management which regulates the quality of private student accommodation in the UK. Ian was formerly Head of Policy and Chief Economist at the British Chambers of Commerce. He has also worked in banking and teaching, and holds professional qualifications in finance and market research, and is an honourary Fellow of the Institute of Residential Property Management. He is married, with one young son.

Articles by Ian Fletcher

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