Sunday, June 20, 2010

You want a housing bubble?

I got your housing bubble right here!

Well, maybe not. BUt I do have a couple of little nuggets that contributed to it.

First, serial commenter Woman on a Raft has got her own blog—hoorah!—and neatly breaks down the folly of HIPs. And reminds us all why Our New Coalition Overlords™ are retaining the Energy Performance Certificates.
Despite the prompt action, the Coalition was lumbered with retaining one element of the pack, the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), because that draws its authority not from English statute law, but from a European directive:

DIRECTIVE 2002/91/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 16 December 2002 on the energy performance of buildings

The original UK legislation on HIPs and EPCs was contained in section 5 of the Housing Act 2004, every word of which section is a monument to folly and can only have been written by someone capable of colour-coding their elastic bands and bonged out of their skull on amphetamines.

There is a related 2007 statutory instrument and explanatory note for bringing in the EPCs which was amended in 2008 and then again in 2010.

The current legislation giving effect to the Energy Performance Certificate aspect of that Directive in English law is contained in the:

Energy Performance of Buildings (Certificates and Inspections) (England and Wales) Regulations 2007 (as amended by the Energy Performance of Buildings (Certificates and Inspections) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2010).

(As usual, where appropriate, separate orders exist for N. Ireland and Scotland. It is only necessary to look at the English law to illustrate the problem).

EPCs were, of course, rolled in with HIPs, which are probably one of about ten billion contributors to the housing bubble.
As we all know, HIPs didn't work. Rather than reduce friction in property transactions, they may have helped inflate the house price bubble by reducing the number of potential vendors and thus keeping the price of houses higher than it might otherwise have been.

Indeed. I recommend that you read the rest of the article, as it is really pretty interesting; however, this post is concerned with other things so I shall move on.

One of the contentions of those of us who are free marketeers is that one of the very major contributors to high house prices is, in fact, the restrictions inherent in the planning system. We all know that house-builders tend to buy up land banks decades ahead of being able to get permission to build on them, but there are other problems too.

These are neatly highlighted in this little gem from The Welfare State We're In. [Emphasis mine.]
Here is powerful evidence that the planning system is driving up the cost of housing.

It is part of the system, now, that developers are obliged to create 'affordable housing' in expensive areas. This is gesture towards the idea of making housing more affordable for those who are less well off. But it is one of those gestures that costs the pretend benefactor - the council - nothing but costs the developer and those who buy the accomodation which is not 'affordable' plenty. It is a hidden tax.

While local and perhaps national governments feel they are being terribly philanthropic about this (with other people's money - the modern way) they are themselve guilty of making housing more expensive for the less well off. How? Through the planning system.

It has now reached the stage where one of Britain's major building companies says it has to spend more on getting planning permissions than on buying bricks.

Here is what the chairman said:
The only negative point is that the roll out is being constrained by the time taken by local authorities to give planning permission on both existing and new developments.

Indeed, on the subject of planning, since my return to Redrow some 11 months ago, I have been dismayed by the sheer levels of bureaucracy and red tape that have crept into the planning system. The list of documents required to accompany planning applications verges on the comical. Even the simplest of planning applications frequently takes many months to secure approval and indeed there are many examples where the months turn into years. It is reflective of the system that Redrow, as one of the UK's largest home builders, now spends more money on planning and planning related fees than it does on bricks.

The Planning Green Paper produced by the Conservative Party this week proposes a complete revolution for the planning system. It does however raise a whole different set of concerns for the industry and in particular its proposal for third party appeals is likely to result in an even more bureaucratic system.

There is no doubt that the current planning system needs substantially streamlining and speeding up. The result would be an increased supply of new housing, significantly more employment and a major stimulus to the UK economy.

This is from pages 6-7 of the Redrow interim report published in February, I think.

Yep, Redrow spends more money on planning applications than it does on bricks—does anyone think that these costs are not reflected in the prices of the houses being sold? Anyone?

No? Good.

Now, we know that land is supposedly at a premium, but why is that? After all, there is still a lot of land to build on...
Scale down the UK. To 99 football pitches.

All built up areas plus gardens would be 6 of those football pitches.

Yes, yes: we all know that the south east is rather more crowded than, say, the Highlands of Scotland. But even in the south east there are, in fact, vast swathes of nothing very much. And yes, land is expensive in the south east because there is a greater density of people.

But even so... I mean, Redrow builds all over the country and Redrow, just to remind you, "now spends more money on planning and planning related fees than it does on bricks".

That is insane.

UPDATE: entirely coincidentally, just as I published this post, I resumed my perusal of my RSS reader and the first thing that I noticed was this little snippet from England Expects—quoting Matt Chorley.
Ping! An email arrives from Steve Gilbert, the uber-busy new MP for St Austell and Newquay.

He is “honoured” apparently to have been named “the ‘one to watch’ from the Lib Dem benches on the important local issue of housing by the influential National Housing Federation.”

He goes on:

“I see it as a reflection on the added challenges a community like ours faces when it comes to planning future developments and ensuring local provision in the housing stock.

“Most of the people I grew up with cannot afford to get onto the property ladder in Cornwall."

Well, you can do something about that, Steve, now that you are in government...


Anonymous said...

The single largest cause of the house price boom is cheap credit provided by printing of new money and the fractional reserve banking system.

neil craig said...

Over the last century house prices have risen 4 times faster than the RPI

Nobody has been able to suggest any technological reason why this is, indeed as technology improves they should have proportionately reduced. A century ago a house & car cost roughly the same. This can only be government regulation - both the costs of getting planning permission & the extra costs because planners demand Victorian building practices & prevent the sort of modular mass production methods that were so successful when Henry ford used them.

Pond Life said...

HPC is ace. I'm outta stocks and shares because of them and into rice, beans, guns and ammo. I think my portfolio is looking stronger now.

Woman on a Raft said...

Thanks for the link.

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