Urban areas take primacy in the Builders Budget

A budget sketch from Adam Hall, managing partner, FCH Architects

If shares in Bedford’s famous brick makers don’t surge after the chancellor’s autumn budget, I’m not really sure they ever will.  We’ve called it the Builders’ Budget here at FCH, and with good reason.

A dizzying array of figures tripped from the chancellor’s tongue as first one, then another and then a dozen more initiatives, incentives, giveaways, carrots and sticks were applied to the housing market to help it deliver a target of an additional 300,000 net additional homes by the mid-2020s.

Observers were left punch drunk and a period of reflection – not least on the small print – will bring greater clarity as to Mr Hammond’s precise intentions.  But there was no doubt that his objective was to get more brickies to work.  He even promised £34m to train them.

But what of the green belt?  Of Floppsy, Mole and Toad and the sylvan pastures on which they thrive?  Safe as houses, if you’ll forgive the pun.  The second biggest cheer of the speech was reserved for news that the green belt remained sacrosanct – that is, unless you live in the Oxford/Milton Keynes/Cambridge corridor, where you’ll just have to jolly well accept hundreds of thousands of new homes.  For the good of the British economy, you understand.  Doubtless the same get-out clause will be offered for the five new greenbelt ‘garden towns’, too.

Putting such considerations to one side, the focus of the chancellor’s fiscal incentives, loans, grants and other support mechanisms was to be high density development in city centres and urban transport hubs.  Amen to that, we say.

But back to the cheers, the largest of which was reserved for the announcement that first time buyers would pay no stamp duty on purchases up to £300,000 (the current threshold is £125,000).  If you live in London then you pay nothing on the first £300,000 of your first £500,000.

Firmly in the government’s sights were the volume house builders, who heard about carrots and sticks a-plenty to incentivise them to deliver.  There’s even a review of their alleged practice of planning permission ‘banking’, where some say they trickle out the supply of new homes in a rising market to drive prices upwards by limiting supply.

There was help for SME house builders to bring forward smaller sites and a massive increase in the HCA’s remit – and a nifty re-branding to go with it.  Henceforth, its Homes England to you and me.

Generation Rent got a boost, too, with the right to demand longer tenancies.  I’d imagine the dedicated PRS funds will be happy with that, given their desire to reduce tenant churn.

The focus on urban house building – and the clear emphasis on high density, brownfield development – was supported with cash for remediation, a vital move if sites are to be made viable.  £1.1bn was promised to unlock strategic sites and a further £2.7bn for infrastructure investment.  And just in case the house builders are running short of cash, there was £8bn of loans and guarantees announced for both private house builders and build-to-rent developers.

The figures kept coming.  £10bn to support Help to Buy; a £400m estate regeneration fund; and a £1.7bn Transforming Cities Fund.  A budget for the regeneration sector in the mould of the Heseltine era, it would seem – and delivered with a measure of the great man’s barnstorming qualities, too.

So, it’s time to dive in to the small print with the help of the property media and see where the devil and the detail may combine.  But overall, a set of measures that suggested that the chancellor had been listening to the industry and understood the role it can play in urban regeneration and economic growth.