Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Conservatives' Housing Policy - will it help?

One of the big issues of our society is how to house people. But there are conflicting issues:
  1. A basic shortage of accommodation, leading to high housing costs, particularly in areas of the country with high employment;
  2. Popular resentment and opposition to new development, particularly on greenfield sites, and where back gardens or other "empty" space is used up;
  3. Pressure on parking infrastructure;
  4. A need to replace old housing stock with new in order to raise standards and save energy;
  5. An opposition to losing older property where this raises density.
The Conservatives plan to change planning rules to as "prevent the bulldozing of homes with gardens" and so as allow the market to build "new homes with parking spaces and gardens". But where? But how? This is not explained.

The Conservatives will abolish stamp duty land tax on properties selling for less than £250,000, so that "nine out of ten pay nothing". This will cost a great deal of money of course, and lead to the current "dead zone" between £250,000 and £260,000 being extended by £10,000.

It is hard to conclude that these measures will assist anyone.

The Labour Party appears to promise little of any use, with a pathetic promise of 5,500 new rented homes over the next 18 months. In the 1930s, around 300,000 new homes were built each year, with a recession deeper than we can imagine now. Around 130,000 private homes are built each year; half of the level 75 years ago.

The only way to deal with the housing crisis is to use land efficiently. If this means pulling down bungalows and replacing them with terrace-houses; if it means high density development with limited provision for car parking, then this is a price which our descendants will be glad we paid. If the same approach to housing need as we have now had obtained for a century rather than a quarter of that time, we would have shanty towns outside every city. It is time we grew up.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Will the Tories get rid of HIPs?

They say they will, of course, but will they, and will it be a good idea? Will there be mourners, and will we, like the people in the picture standing waiting for a glimpse of Stalin's coffin, both delight in the end of a pointless tyranny and yet miss the passing of opportunities for improvement?

Everyone hates HIPs of course. Sellers resent paying out £350 or so. Buyers dislike being told by their Solicitors that personal searches are unreliable and out of date. Only lawyers read them, and they don't understand the Energy Performance Certificates; or maybe they do but don't want to.

Estate agents keep them hidden and bring them out only when offers have been accepted if they can't avoid it. They don't understand them and fear that in the right hands they might contain inconvenient truths. The potential for using them as a selling aid is vast but unexplored.

Documents are often missing or useless. If a lease has been extended, you'll only get the document which extends the original lease and none of the terms to which is subject. Off title documents, such as restrictive covenants, are never included unless care has been taken in preparing a HIP, which excludes any done by HIP "specialists".

So why should anyone complain at their disappearance? Well, the HIP firms will. They lobbied hard for them to be introduced, and it is hard to believe that Ruth Kelly and Yvette Cooper, who were the architects of this fiaco, were not touched to the very heart by their entreaties. Will their successors be prepared to write off this useless sector of our economy, and the considerable investment that they have foolishly underwritten? Maybe not.

Also it is fair to say that the legal profession, with its customary adaptability, has taken on board the HIP project and uses them, grumbling away, to the best advantage available. More change we don't want either.

So the alternative is to fix them. This could be done:

  1. Ensure that the Searches used are official searches only unless the local authority in question cannot supply these within 21 days.
  2. Provide for a cheap "Official Search update" to allow Buyers to update an Official Local Search within a year for a modest fee - perhaps 25% or 33% of the original fee.
  3. Get rid of the useless and misleading Property Questionnaire.
  4. Ensure that off title documents and other documents which are necessary are included.
  5. Provide for public access to HIPs once done, or at least to EPCs; no more hiding them away.
But what are the chances of this happening?

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The 54th Parliament of the United Kingdom is drawing to its inevitable close with elections expected next May. It seems very likely that our bizarre electoral system will result in a substantial majority of seats for the Conservative Party, led by Mr David Cameron, who if they are fortunate, may poll around two fifths of the votes. This may be regarded as a suitable punishment for 12 years of increasingly lacklustre and arrogant rule by the Labour Party, who have in elections since 1997 been able to command majorities in the House of Commons yet without getting anywhere near plurality of the votes.

For the record the figures cast for Labour were:

1997 43.2%
2001 40.7%
2005 35.3%

The last time a winning party polled a majority of the votes cast in a UK election was in 1931. The Labour landslide in 1945 resulted from their polling 49.71%; and the Conservative high point was in 1955 (49.7%).

So how is that the "Mother of Parliaments" is elected in this ramshackle fashion? The answer is of course that because the threshold of absolute power is set so low it is tempting for those in power to think that they can scrape through next time just by doing a bit better than the party which comes second.

This is quite correct of course. In 1945, the defeated Conservatives polled a higher percentage of the vote than the winning Labour party did in 2005 - winning 197 seats in 1945; and with Labour winning 356 seats in 2005.

The reason for this is the gradual decline of the two party system. From the mid 1970s, the Liberal Party, in its various guises, started to poll between 15% and 20% of the vote, figures not seen since the 1920s. In Scotland and Wales nationalist parties started winning seats. Consistuency fights were no longer two horse races; in some cases any one of four parties might be in with a chance.

The "first past the post" system is therefore no longer fit for purpose, and the truth is that a Government elected by it lacks legitimacy. Respect for politicians is at an all time low, and maybe these two things are connected. We have knee jerk policy making because no party can be seen to be ignoring the "public opinion" (expressed by newspapers of course(!)) that the electoral system does not take into account.

With that in mind, we can expect no more rationality from the Conservatives than we have seen from the Labour Party.

I hope to explore some of the likely legislative initiatives of the next Government over the next few months.

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Streatham, London, United Kingdom
We are a small but perfectly formed firm of Solicitors in South London. Messrs A. L. Hughes & Co. Solicitors 340 Streatham High Road London SW16 6HH DX 58457 Norbury Telephone: 020 8769 7100 Fax: 020 8677 6644 A list of partners may be inspected at the above premises. We're regulated by the Solicitors' Regulation Authority.