The Chancellor, in his Autumn Fudge-It, has decreed that, with immediate effect, first time buyers will pay no stamp duty on properties up to £300,000. So, good news you lucky things... you can now afford that one bedroom flat in Oxford that you have always dreamed of. Right?
OK, I admit to being a little facetious here. My comment above isn't to disparage anybody's one bedroom flat, nor anybody's aspirations to own one. It is intended to give us pause for thought, to help us see past the headline, to try to bring us back down to Earth and remind us that we are still in this incredible situation where, across so much of Oxford, a £300,000 budget barely gets us onto the ladder. Who cares about the saved stamp duty, really? Stamp Duty can be a problem, no doubt; but it is still a drop compared to the deposits that our young people need to save in order to go for that first mortgage. I care more about how first time buyers can afford to save those deposits, especially when it's nigh on impossible to rent even a single room in the city for much less than £500 a month - add on everything else that life costs, how can anyone afford to save anything? Not everyone is lucky enough to have parents willing or, ultimately, able to lend a helping hand to contribute towards (or even 100% fund) their deposit, and that is creating an increasingly uneven playing field, and an unfair market place.
Philip Hammond isn't a bad chap. He may even be one of the good guys. He does have a tough job and he has struggled - as ever - to have much room to manoeuvre when it comes to delivering the sort of killer Budget that we could all do with, in the face of what is a faltering economy (and that is not really his fault (well, it's not!)). Actually, the risk of this new (regurgitated) stamp duty 'give away' is that, despite the initial face-value bonus provided to first time buyers, all it might actually achieve is an increased demand by those first time buyers for property at a moment in time where we already know there is not enough supply, and therefore this is feasibly going to be a measure that only drives prices up and even further out of reach.
And before anyone starts (and someone will...), the prices we see in Oxford really aren't caused by a secret cabal of Estate Agents deliberately collaborating to overvalue properties in order to push fees up, just so we can all go and guffaw together about our cunning schemes during Champagne-fuelled Friday night binges. This is Conspiracy Theory stuff. Estate Agents exist in cities, towns and villages across the country, and not everywhere has the price issues we do. We have a price issue because we have a limited-housing-stock issue. There are more people wanting to own a property here than there are properties available, and we do not have enough new property being built locally, quickly enough, to supply the market with the deluge, not the dribble, of new properties that the market needs to satisfy demand, provide affordable and social housing stock, and slow down house price growth. Either that or we all need to earn more, but given that the real news that came out of the Budget today was that productivity and economic growth is down (*cough*-Brexit-*cough*), that isn't happening. To further labour my point then, the only proactive way to solve the price issue we have, in a city where the average property is worth 16 times the average salary, is to build, build and build.
I am much more encouraged therefore by the talk in this budget of the compulsory purchase of 'land-banked' land that is otherwise being held on to by developers, land with planning permission in place but work not being started; and I am encouraged by talk of large scale new-building: an extra 300,000 new homes per year by the middle of the next decade; an extra 100,000 homes for Oxfordshire by 2031; and a renewed pledge to push on with the Oxford to Cambridge 'Expressway' in line with that program. This talk is good talk - talk that is digging into the problem and actually proposing real solutions. But, talk is so cheap, and there was really nothing concrete enough said about forcing developers to develop, other than offering a 'review' of the situation in time for the Spring Statement which may then lead to compulsory purchase powers being implemented if deemed necessary. Well, call me a sceptic, but.... . And, 300,000 new homes per year by the middle of the next decade... not to mention 100,000 new homes for Oxfordshire by 2031? Sounds distant enough yet in both cases to take the pressure off getting started in earnest particularly quickly, with time for plenty more Autumn Fudge-Its and Spring Scapegoats in the meantime. Anything can happen.