On the subject of Grant Shapps and John Healey, I attended the Housing Market Intelligence conference last week at which both spoke.
I obviously recommend the conference because I have a vested interest in it and indeed the associated report, which I edit. But that is not the point.
While the presentation styles of the two politicans could not have been more different, there was one thread I noticed that appeared to tie the two presentations together. Given that this was pretty much a pre-election speaking opportunity both managed deftly to alienate large slices of the audience.
Mr Healey showed intense sensitivity to the audience by bigging up his plans to introduce more competition to the critically sick house building market through his Public Land Initiative.
The full force of this policy, he thought, had not really been appreciated. He hopes it will open the way for more contractors to jostle in the building market with house builders, adding competition and a thirst for innovation.
Great, but I am not sure a room densely populated with struggling house builders was really up for listening to such an eager presentation on how more competition could be introduced to a market that is on the floor and even today is forcing firms out of business.
Mr Healey’s proclamations followed earlier policy suggestions from Mr Shapps – he who would be housing minister. He treated the conference – which it must be said is sensitive on planning issues – to his wide-eyed innocent version of “localism”.
(I’ll leave aside his Linux inspired open-source planning propositions, only to say that open source programming is normally about everyone winning, whereas in planning almost inevitably someone has to take a hit and lose. Still maybe if I twittered, I’d understand where he was coming from.)
Mr Shapps says he’ll provide local areas (the definition of area appears yet to be fully defined) with match funding on the council tax generated from new build housing for six years.
That amounts a grant of about £10,000 a home spread over 6 years. Or put another way about £2 billion a year if the industry ever gets to the levels of output large numbers of experts say are needed to meet the demand and need for homes.
Will this work as a policy? Well let’s take an example where you double the homes in a particular given area. That means the locals get about £5,000 each in kind for each new home, if none of the allocated funding leaks away. The other £5,000 naturally goes to the incomers.
Now if those locals fear for a moment that a new development would knock £5,000 off the value of their homes, whether they are right or wrong, they will object.
No, as I see it, this is not the way Mr Shapps. It will fail. But I have a variation that might just work – make it a lottery.
Here’s how it works. A house builder has plans for a 100-home development. So you get the local community to hold a secret ballot.
All the “yes” votes are put into a special tub and one is drawn out. The lucky voter then gets 100 times £10,000 (spread over six years if you like). The “millionaire” draws (or half a million for 50 homes) could perhaps be televised to raise extra funds and to cement the merits of the policy, generate excitement and spread the word.
Now my guess is that such a scheme would test the resolve of even the most ardent nimby. And you get the bonus of an extra much-needed available home, because it is a reasonable to assume that the winner would move after the ballot was drawn.
If you don’t think it would work, I suspect there are some hard-nosed game theorists who might argue differently.