Letwin's report could change everything

David Rudlin

David Rudlin hails radical proposals to cut the value of land and hand pre-emptive planning powers to councils

A few years ago I asked a volume housebuilder client of ours why it took them so long to build out their large sites. This was prompted by a news report at the time suggesting that, at current build rates, Ebbsfleet Garden Village would take more than 70 years to deliver (it has since speeded up). I put to him the widely made accusation that the big housebuilders were restricting supply in order to keep prices high. His response was that on a big site they could be out of pocket by tens of millions before selling the first house. In no way was it in their interest to slow down sales given their borrowing costs. If anyone could tell them how to sell more than the one or two units a week from each sales office then they would love to hear from them.

Well Oliver Letwin has just delivered a report to the chancellor doing just that. Commissioned at the time of the 2017 budget, he was asked to explore the gap between the number of new homes consented and the numbers delivered and how we might increase the latter. The report largely endorses the view of my housebuilder client and while it doesn’t make particularly comfortable reading for the industry, the first two-thirds will not worry them unduly. However it ends with a radical twist that is very much in line with our thinking in our 2014 Wolfson Economics Prize essay, and which could change everything.

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