Raab to break ‘vice like grip’ of large housebuilders


The “vice-like grip” of huge companies on Britain’s building industry needs to be broken to increase the supply of affordable homes, the housing minister has said. Dominic Raab pledged action to boost competition in the construction industry because small building firms have been “eviscerated”, to tackle the practice of major developers refusing to built on plots until prices rise and to champion the development of factory-made houses. In an interview with i , he insisted the UK was beginning to see the “light at the end of the tunnel” in the housing crisis and vowed to tackle the “stigma” often faced by tenants in social housing. House building targets Small businesses have almost been eviscerated in the UK market and consumers are then getting a bad deal because the cost of housing Dominic Raab Theresa May has set a target for 300,000 homes to be built in England by 2025 – last year’s total was 217,000 – after anger over the cost of new homes and rent levels became a major issue in last year’s general election. Mr Raab said extra spending on housing, as well as infrastructure to support new developments, was crucial for increasing the supply of affordable homes, but reform of the building industry was also essential. “When any market is gummed up, what you tend to see is a relatively small number of big businesses, big players, who seem to have control over the market and that can put a glass ceiling on the start-up of small businesses. “We have certainly seen that in the developer sector. Small businesses have almost been eviscerated in the UK market and consumers are then getting a bad deal because the cost of housing [is] too high.” Capitalism ‘for the little guy’ He indicated that restrictions could be introduced to prevent major developers acquiring land with planning permission but not building on it – a tactic out of the reach of small builders whose presence in the market has “effectively withered on the vine”. Mr Raab said the “incredibly exciting” growth of self-build houses – homes partly constructed in factories before they were moved to their sites – opened up the industry to new companies – and reduced disruption to communities from construction projects.

Thames Gateway is now Thames Estuary 2050 – But No need to wait till 2070 for a New Thames Rail Crossing @NatInfraCom

The Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission published its vision today, consummate timing from the Ministry three major announcements re planning on the same day so it got no publicity.  Also not being announced on the same day as the Budget, contract Cam-MK-OX it doesn’t have the implicit backing of the Treasury.  Sir John Armitt chair of the National Infrastructure Commission took over as Chair after Micheal Hesiltine was sacked from government roles.

The challenge of course is to avoid the failure of the Thames Gateway project which we have talked about many times over many years on here.  All high aspirations, no spatial plan, no specific infrastructure projects and no delivery mechanisms.  Despite it being described as a ‘growth area’ my analysis of census data shows plan target in the area to have been well below household formation, therefore rather the being a growth area in effect it was a restraint area.

Its a good report – with Arup’s logo (its Chairman was on the commission) discretely on the back cover.  its comprehensive, it even has a sectiom going back to the ice age.  Oh how many local plans have I read so long it feels like they go back to the ice age.

It divides the area up into the familiar South Essex, North Kent and London sub categories.  But describing South Essex as South Essex Foreshore, a daft title as it includes Brentwood and Basildon which have no coastline and Rochford whose foreshore is mostly on the river Crouch not the River Thames. (note:  The Commission seems unaware that Brentwood recently joined with the Thames Gateway South Essex Authorities to prepare a joint spatial plan ).

In terms of vision it promotes North Kent as a medical research corridor.  Though Pfizer are pulling out of Sandwich there seem to be many other takers at Discovery Park so this is a good concept South Essex is less clear.  It talks of a national resiliance centre.  Its former oil depots are becoming logistics centres so perhaps a ‘post oil economy’ focus on renewable, resilience and advanced/added value manufacturing/entrepot should be promoted to avoid reliance on low wage logistics growth (which is explosive around Thurrock).

On housing it promoted a housing target of 1 million new homes by 2050.  Adding up the existing government based OANs with addons for employment growth aspirations exceeds this slightly.   Notably their forecast is entirely demographic and does not include and additions for additional in migration caused by growth aspirations in development plans.  So the 1 million figure should be seen as a minimum.  The commission says:

The standard methodology for calculating objectively assessed housing need provides a figure by each local authority. If this distribution is adhered to, around two thirds of these homes will need to be delivered in east London. The Commission believes that solely focusing on homes in London is unsustainable and that more of these homes should be provided in Kent and Essex. The one million homes figure should be viewed as an Estuary-wide total.

Clearly the London numbers are not deliverable requiring a more than doubling of completions, which the Mayor of London now acknowledges will not happen.  How much of this though should go eastwards?  The Essex part of the area being incredibly constrained.  If this broad figure is to be reached radical options such as redeveloping Thamesmead at higher densities, espanding Canvey Island through land reclamation, building a flood wall east of Gravesend and developing New Setttlements at possible  locations such as Hooe, West Hordon, and RAF Marston.

As the technical report states

If these Plans demonstrate sufficient growth ambition – going above the minimum threshold set out by Government for local housing need; and given statutory status – Government should reward this ambition with substantial infrastructure investment and freedoms and flexibilities.

So heres the deal – take some of London’s growth and get infrastructure dosh.  But how much and will it be sufficient incentive.  Why not such an offer in a 360 degree arc around London?  Also you have to recognise the sheer scale of the London need overwhelms surrounding areas.  So for example if South Essex were to take only 10% of the Thames Gateway London need it would require tripling of the Greenfield (all Green Belt) land take.   This just isn’t on in such a highly urbanized and constrained area.  The overspill needs to be spread further and wider to avoid a bloody political fight.

In terms of public transport proposals

The Commission is supportive of the proposals for the Lower Thames Crossing.
However, in order to future-proof the proposed crossing, the Commission believes that the design should, as a minimum, not preclude the future delivery of infrastructure to support rail transport links and/or autonomous vehicles. Highways
England should also work with the relevant local authorities to ensure that the design and location of the crossing and connector roads minimise impact on traffic flows, unlock jobs and homes growth in the surrounding area.

Great.  Exactly what I proposed on here yesterday.

It also proposes something it calls Thames East Line

Delivery of new multi-modal (including rail) crossing east of the Lower Thames Crossing combined with the second Thames Barrier. Potential interchange points could be Basildon and the Medway Towns.
To maximise the benefits arising from a second Thames Barrier (which will provide world-class standard of flood protection) including improved north south connectivity, enhanced linkages with other high productivity corridors around London, agglomeration
opportunities at interchanges and improved access to
England’s high speed railway network.
How: Government should consider a multi-modal crossing as part of its planning for the next Thames Barrier. This includes the financing models, which
could be used to deliver the project by 2050.

Sorry this does not make sense in engineering, planning or transport terms.  It is a reheating of the Thames Hub proposal put forward by Fosters (yes he is on the commission) as part of Boris island.

The first problem is you cant put road or rail on top of a retractable flood barrier, you can in part but then you have to dip down and tunnel in areas where you have locks.  The model for the Thames hub being the St Petersburg Barrier.

This however wont work on the Thames. least of all well up river east of Tilbury.  At St Petersburg it bridges across 10km and is road only.  The flood gates notable to take full size tankers or container ships.  Rail would require a much less shallow gradient.  The various potential locations for a Thames Flood Barrier two are all 1-2 km wide.  It simply doesnt work in section.  If it was a dam like structure it would cause the Thames to silt up (like all large dams do to their rivers.  In any event the Environment Agency correctly models no need for a second barrier before 2070.  If no added value rests of bringing it forward there is no BCR case for this.

If you are going to build a rail link Essex to Kent you do it as part of the Lower Thames Crossing.  If you are going to build a second flood barrier you do it as a restractable structure like the existing and make it further downstream such as at Swanscome, so as to avoid block navigation to Tilbury and London International Ports and to avoid European protected sites.  If you are going to do tidal power do it as part of tidal lagoons that don’t block navigation, such as part of land reclamation/flood walls work around Canvey Island or the Isle of Sheppy, where it could also create intertidal salt marsh habitat countering rising sea levels.





New Tory Thinktank advocates Land Value Capture and Restricting Buy to Let


Private landlords have put home ownership beyond the reach of at least 2 million families, research shows, while Britain has built only half as many new homes as France over the same period.

The radical report from the new Conservative  hinktank Onwardr ecommends ending or severely curtailing tax breaks for buy-to-let and private landlords, a stronger role for local councils and major reform of the planning system to allow communities rather than developers to lead the process.

The report, which was written by Neil O’Brien, a former aide to George Osborne who also worked for Theresa May at No 10, calls for government intervention in the housing market, including giving London councils the power to limit foreign ownership.


“We need to change the balance between the rented sector and home ownership,” O’Brien said. “We should protect existing landlords but discourage more people from investing in rental property, because the buy-to-let boom has bid up prices and reduced homeownership among younger people.”

Previous governments have already acted to curb tax relief on mortgage repayments and maintenance for landlords, but the thinktank says it is still a privileged form of investment that reduces the number of homes available for owner-occupiers while reducing the amount of capital available for more productive investment.

“The UK is one of the cheapest countries for investors involved in residential rental investments,” the report finds.

Emphasising the link between shortage of supply and rising home prices, the report offers radical ideas for increasing the number of new homes.

It argues that planning permission for a hectare of agricultural land can add as much as £2.5m to its value. If the community could benefit from some of the increase, the report argues, it could be used to pay for the kind of services and infrastructure that new developments sometimes lack.

Instead of piecemeal development, it recommends that councils should have the power to put together land and create new settlements with services. It looks across Europe, where most local authorities have strong powers to initiate and shape development and link it to public transport.

It proposes better support to help councils plan new developments drawing on expertise from across the sector, as well as abroad. It also recommends much higher density urban occupation, where the UK lags behind most other comparable countries.

The report wants councils to be able to borrow to buy development land that hey could sell on with planning permission, allowing the local community to benefit from the increased value.

Will Tanner, a former Downing Street policy adviser who is now director of Onward, said it was possible to tackle the housing crisis without concreting over the green belt.

“If the government wants to regain the support of young people … it must be unflinching in its pursuit of greater home ownership. That means hard choices like ending tax breaks for new landlords and giving councils much stronger powers.”