The long-awaited Lyons Housing Review was officially published on October 16, 2014. The Labour Party report, put together by ex BBC chairman Sir Michel Lyons, sets out a comprehensive plan for how a central UK government should and could tackle the UK’s fundamental housing issues. In a public statement, Sir Michel Lyons stated: “We face the biggest housing crisis in a generation because for decades we have failed to build the homes we need”. The 180-page blueprint of a better housing future for the UK has received mixed reviews from industry officials, the public and opposing parties. While the sceptics are out in force, such an intricate review on the state of today’s housing market should be studied by all parties before May 2015. We discuss the review’s main disclosures and what can be learnt from these claims.
The Root Cause
House building lies at the heart of the Labour report, which is declared as the root cause of today’s sky high prices, shortage of social housing and the creation of ‘generation rent’. The central proposal by the Labour government is to build 200,000 new homes every year by 2020, with first-time buyers having priority. Although housing experts claim that a target of 250,000 per year would help to solve today’s shortage, it is a step in the right direction - in 2013, it was reported that completed properties reached a total of 109,370, the lowest since 2010. A proposal for five new towns, including two in the south east, has been included to alleviate demand in the UKs most sought after areas. Prior to the Thatcher years, house building and public social housing was seen as a national priority. As the report points out, this past attitude should be fully acknowledged next May to create future stability.
The Voice of Generation Rent
The voice of generation rent is louder than ever. It was reported this October that one in five homes are now owned by landlords, who are now seeing monthly earnings of almost £3bn – or £32bn a year. Recognising the pitfalls in the Private Rental Sector (PRS) is now so prevalent that the right policies could prove to swing the vote next May. However, according to the Residential Landlords Association (RLA), Labour have been misguided into producing a London-centric report, one which was not represented by any PRS professional. Labour’s plans on rent controls and the prevention of ‘revenge evictions’ have also been criticised by landlords who want to retain the right to evict unscrupulous tenants. What have we learnt? Finding the right policies for the private rental sector is crucial. Listening to landlords and tenants on the most pressing issues should be paramount.
Constructing a Better Future
The UK construction industry is set for a gruelling 12 months and is need of a drastic surge in skilled workers, according to a recent report. The Lyons Review did address the issue by claiming that a greater capacity would be built in the sector to create more than 230,000 jobs, alongside providing more house-building powers to councils around the country. Construction should also be helped along by the fact that the industry would be made more competitive with more small building companies competing for contracts. Finally, the freeing up of undeveloped land that has been in the system for years would be freed up to address land scarcity issues. From this report, we gain a better understanding of how many issues are constraining the current UK construction industry. As Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, pointed out: “…the target of 200,000 new homes per year is ambitious, but it is a necessary ambition. To achieve this aim we will need to significantly boost the capacity of the house building industry.”
While it cannot be contested that such a meaty report of UK housing is a welcome action taken by the Labour Party, its findings do highlight the complexities of how to respond to underlying issues that have been prominent for decades. The proposals set out call for greater changes across other sectors in the UK, for example a greater effort within higher education institutions to bridge the construction skills gap that is a constraint on current projects. Questions have also been raised on how councils can fulfil greater housing quotas after years of cuts and how borrowing should be handled and by whom. What we have learnt most from the Lyons Housing Review is that it is a starting point in a long and arduous journey.
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