One of the big measures in today’s Budget was the Help to Buy scheme. It answers two demands: the first for the Tories to continue to support home ownership as what George Osborne called ‘the most human of aspirations’, and the second for the government to do everything it can to get construction moving again.
But there’s an interesting political point here. In the summer, George Osborne frightened the living daylights out of Eric Pickles and his team at the Communities and Local Government department by putting it about that he wanted further relaxations on planning regulations to encourage economic growth through construction. Pickles & Co fought back pretty hard, arguing that the problem was no longer the planning system as the Localism Act and National Planning Policy Framework had dealt with that, but the availability of credit. But then Nick Boles, who the Pickles camp widely regarded as one of ‘Osborne’s spies’, was installed in the department, and started talking about his plans to change the system still more.
The Treasury says Help to Buy will benefit around 190,000 households a year with an equity loan worth up to 20 per cent of the value of a newbuild property and a guarantee for lenders on mortgages of up to 95 per cent. George Osborne called it a ‘dramatic intervention to get our housing market moving’. And it’s also a boost for Pickles as it focuses on credit. But the Budget document itself reminds us that there is still more to come on planning rules too: on point 1.115, it says the Government will ‘publish significantly reduced planning guidance by this summer, in line with Lord Matthew Taylor’s recommendations, providing much-needed simplicity and clarity’.
P.S. I asked Nick Boles about the tension between credit and planning rules in an interview that I did for another publication recently. His answer was interesting, but perhaps not entirely reassuring for those who hope that everything will be running smoothly on the construction front by 2015:
‘We need to be clear about something: the planning system has not delivered for about 30 or 40 years. Our reform is crucial and I am confident that, with simplicity, clarity and incentives, it will work. The difficulty in the short term is that we can’t tell whether it’s working until market and credit conditions become more normal.’