Does the prime minister’s analysis of what she’s achieved in office match with industry perception?

Steve Douglas CROP

Theresa May’s housing legacy – what should we make of it? The forthcoming Spending Review will be the real test.

The outgoing prime minister made a surprise appearance at the recent Annual Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Manchester. She sought to set out her legacy of delivery on housing supply and social reform. But the reviews on her performance were mixed. And the assessment of her actual achievement was not kind.

Her desire to cement her place in history as a socially reforming prime minister was perhaps misguided, based on actual delivery, but equally, the assessment of her legacy as a failure is arguably premature, or perhaps should be better characterised as ”unfinished business”.

Theresa May’s desire to cement her place in history as a socially reforming prime minister was perhaps misguided

The Housing White Paper of 2017, identified the housing market as broken, and subsequent announcements set out ambitious plans to fix it. There was a recognition of the need for a new approach to land; to planning; to local plans and needs assessments; to the use of compulsory purchase powers to push forward the build-out of land banks.

There was the removal of the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap, for local authorities; £2bn of forward funding commitments; and support for a new generation of strategic partnerships with Homes England to maintain and speed up supply. All of these proposals and ambitions had cross-party and cross-sector support. Labour’s major gripe was that it was a long time coming. And with 200,000 homes delivered last year, the second-highest annual total in the last 30 years, it is undeniable that progress on increasing supply has been achieved.

With 200,000 homes delivered last year, the second-highest annual total in the last 30 years, it is undeniable that progress on increasing supply has been achieved

However, the problem is that 200,000 still falls at least 100,000 homes per year short of what is generally acknowledged to be the number of homes that are actually required over the next 10 years to meet the housing supply need and backlog. That £2bn long-term funding is a start, but it is a drop in the ocean of the £146bn that a cross-sector group of organisations including the National Housing Federation, the Chartered Institute of Housing and Shelter has said is actually needed. And it is less than half of what the G15 group of housing associations and the Greater London Authority say is needed in London alone.

The White Paper proposals have not hit the statute books, and the cross-party consensus that government-funded, social-rented homes are an important part of the housing landscape does not sit comfortably within parts of the PM’s own party.

The cross-party consensus that government-funded, social-rented homes are an important part of the housing landscape does not sit comfortably within parts of the PM’s own party

The most significant contributors to the increase in housing supply in recent times have been housing associations. and they are warning that unless there is a ”dialling up” in government investment, their cross-subsidy delivery model – using for-sale housing to part-fund rented homes – will stall, and along with it any real chance of delivering the much-heralded 1 million homes target.

So the real test of the Theresa May’s ”unfinished business” legacy, is what happens in the forthcoming Spending Review to support continued supply and at the Conservative Party conference in the autumn to build on the policy aspirations of her administration. A one-year Spending Review settlement helps nobody involved in housing delivery. Failure to move the White Paper forward or a shift in housing policy may consign the legacy to a footnote in history. We’ll watch what unfolds, with interest, then we can make a proper judgment.

Steve Douglas is group chief executive of Aquila, the listed group of management consultancies which includes housing and regeneration consultant Altair