Housing Deregulation – Comment by Anthony Hudson

The Government’s deregulation mania has little to do with real economic recovery: it’s partly a panicked gut reaction, and partly about political philosophy despite the lack of evidence linking regulation with under-investment. The reaction also ignores recent history that demonstrates the consequences of under-regulation elsewhere. Regulation often drives economic growth and research investment - think of all the possibilities with energy saving technologies. The need for regulation varies in time and place, and right now is crucial to bring UK housing standards up to those elsewhere in Europe. In Holland or Germany long-term ownership is more generally in the hands of bodies who are fundamentally interested in the longevity and sustainability of housing stock. The UK needs to overcome its short-termism where the dominance of private ownership means that housebuilders rarely look beyond the initial sale. Regulations can encourage them to pay attention to the subsequent performance of their buildings. In a competitive open market with many players, good demand and supply without massive distortions of ownership, size and monopolies will help improve the quality and range of products. Not so in the UK housing market, where value is created from getting planning permission rather than competing through offering quality or choice to consumers. Regulation is therefore necessary to address this market failure. Regulation is also necessary to protect the public through a level playing field of minimum standards for structural stability, fire protection, sanitation, health and safety and so on. Sluggish housebuilding is simply because of a lack of demand in a housing market that is over-dependent upon private ownership. The future could look more promising as we realise that house ownership is not the panacea it was once thought to be. A move back towards renting will of course take time, and until it does we need regulation to bolster minimum standards for building. Anthony Hudson

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