Housing rescue plan? What housing rescue plan?

Housing rescue plan? What housing rescue plan?

Caroline Flint has just announced the much talked of rescue plan for the housing market – couched in terms of affordable housing, but in essence an attempt to bolster the crumbling house building sector.

It has been welcomed by the National Housing Federation, so it must be good. And I am sure the Home Builders Federation will, through gritted teeth, also welcome the move.

See what you think, but to my eyes it appears to be the equivalent of throwing a drowning man a cork in rough seas.

Here are the five points of the plan:

A further £270 million of the £8.4 billion three year budget for affordable housing allocated. This she says will provide a further 3,800 homes for social rent and 1,500 shared ownership homes over the next three years.

A new national clearing house to help house builders flog their unsold stock for affordable housing.

More flexibility around bidding for funding from the Government’s £8.4 billion affordable housing programme.

More scope to pay more upfront to ease cashflow for building of affordable and social housing.

And the announcement of a sixth round of the Housing Private Finance Initiative.

So, boiling it down, it is a bit of already allocated cash brought forward, a commitment to be more flexible and a bit more of PFI, which let’s face it may prove a tad harder in future given that the “private finance” bit is tricky to get your hands on.

Let’s look at the scale of the crisis.

£270 million may produce the 5,300 extra homes over three years that Ms Flint say it will, but it will take other cash to do so. In raw terms £270 million buys about 2,000 homes – depending on where they are built.

The industry expects to see 100,000 fewer homes to be built this year. The entire £8.4 billion in one year wouldn’t fill that gap.

So we face a meltdown in house building, at least 100,000 jobs lost and an almost impossible task to hit the increasingly meaningless Government housing targets.

Listening to Caroline Flint on the BBC today programme this morning at just past 7am I heard her say: “Despite the credit crunch we can actually deliver our affordable housing programme.”

I wondered, how many people “in the know” spat their toast out as they heard her say it? Certainly not the growing numbers who must be burying their heads in the sand hoping this is just a nightmare that will have disappeared when they see the light again.

With the news also featuring the inevitable loss of 900 jobs at Taylor Wimpey, I was gripped by morbid curiousity on what the £2.2 billion Barratt paid for Wilson Bowden just over a year ago would buy now. So I did a quick sum on the market caps of the top firms.

Here’s what I found. £2.2 billion at this mornings prices would buy all six of the quoted pure house builders within the top 10 UK (Taylor Wimpey, Persimmon, Barratt, Bellway, Redrow and Bovis Homes) and a majority share in Berkeley. In normal circumstances these seven firms have the capacity to build about 70,000 homes a year.

Indeed the £270 million is not far short of what you would pay to buy the whole of Taylor Wimpey.

And the £8.4 billion would probably buy the whole industry, all bar a few small niches, twice over. A point not lost on either Daniel Thomas at the FT or Julian Birch at Inside Housing.

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