Lunchtime news Monday 18 August 2023

Housing minister Caroline Flint has come under fire after it emerged that one of the communities likely to be selected as one of the first eco-towns is a former mining town in her own constituency. Ms Flint maintains that the development is not getting preferential treatment and has appointed a junior minister to help with the proposals and to avoid accusations of a conflict of interest.

The waiting list for council and social housing could stretch to 5 million during the next two years as more people are forced out of their homes due to repossession, the Local Government Association warned. Friday’s figures of an increase of 24 per cent in possession orders is likely to have a ‘knock on’ effect on council and housing association waiting lists and the LGA has called on the government to give town halls freedom to borrow on the open market and to remortgage their assets to invest in house building.

Planners have been urged to assess the design quality of all housing schemes against the building for life standards, which have just been adopted by the government. The move aims to help councils meet housing quality criteria across 20 elements of good design. All affordable housing schemes overseen by English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation now require a qualifying BLS score before allowing them to go ahead. It is estimated that currently 80 per cent of homes fail when compared against the standards.

Rightmove, the UK’s largest online housing website, saw its shares fall 8 per cent this morning after it said that house prices were still dropping. The average asking price has fallen 2.3 per cent from a month earlier and 4.8 per cent from a year earlier, while in London prices are down 5.3 per cent for the month and 3.8 per cent on the year. But even with the price reductions, Rightmove said that fewer houses are selling, and transactions are at the lowest level since 1959.

Housebuilders have started lobbying the government to set up a tax-free savings scheme for first-time buyers that will improve liquidity in the mortgage market. New Homes Marketing Board has urged the chancellor to introduce a national deposit savings scheme offering tax breaks worth up to £5,000 to help buyers afford the costs of a deposit. Savers would have up to five years to save a maximum of £20,000, which would have a 25 per cent tax-free bonus added that could be used for a house deposit, stamp duty and legal fees.

Meanwhile in a bid to lure new borrowers Halifax and Abbey National, the two biggest lenders in Britain have started a price war. However only those with equity of at least 25 per cent are being targeted – first-time buyers need not apply.

Residential building land has dropped in value by 20 per cent in the first six months of the year, and could fall by up to 50 per cent before the slump is over. Research by Savills shows the value of brownfield sites is down 19.8 per cent and greenfield sites down 22.5 per cent – four times the decrease of the housing market. Development land is a key asset of most housebuilders’ portfolios, and many analysts expect companies to follow the lead of Taylor Wimpey, which last week wrote down the value of its land bank to reflect the falling market.

But it all could be irrelevant for some homeowners as, according the new head of the Environment Agency, stretches of the British coastline are doomed and plans will need to be drawn up soon to evacuate people from the most threatened areas. In his first interview since taking over the agency, the environment chief said that Britain faced hard choices over which areas of the coast to defend and which to allow the sea to reclaim: ‘It would simply be an impossible task both in financial terms and engineering terms to save every bit of coast’.