Ho Ho Ho! – Christmas comes early for house builders as David Cameron is set to announce another extension of the Help to Buy scheme at his party’s conference in Birmingham this week.
Under the latest proposals, David Cameron anticipates that up to 100,000 houses would be built on so-called ‘brownfield’ land and offered for sale only to young people buying their first home in England. The new homes would be offered at discounted prices of 20% less than their market value. Exactly who will be valuing the new homes and “comparable” homes has yet to be clarified, but it should be expected that the house builders would set the “market prices” and then “discount” them by 20%. So, in theory at least, a new house worth £200,000 could be bought by a first-time buyer under 40 for £160,000 with a potential saving of £40,000.
To make the discount possible, the Conservatives are proposing to exempt house builders from certain taxes and requirements such as the Section 106 provision of affordable and social housing, the Community Infrastructure Levy and the Zero Carbon Homes Standard on these sites. In addition, brownfield sites – land previously used for commercial or industrial purposes – and surplus public sector land will be released to house builders at knock-down prices to fund the discounting – savings which house builders will be “obliged” to pass on to buyers.
House builders will be required to demonstrate, before planning approval is given, that the homes they are proposing to build will be at least a 20% cheaper than comparable houses in order to qualify for the discounted land and tax exemptions. That could mean that at the outset, the homes would have a price set before planning and could perhaps discourage house builders from land banking these sites. Brownfield land can be notoriously costly to develop. Previous industrial and commercial sites are often contaminated and the demolition and clean up of toxins can be as time-consuming as it is expensive. Factor in that it will also be necessary to bring in clean topsoil and that costly foundation designs may also be required, it is not surprising that the house builder’s preference is always going to be Greenfield land.