Stuart Stead: With George Osborne aiming to make a splash by pushing through Stamp Duty reforms faster than a speeding political bullet, those purchasing homes over £1m certainly won't see him as the blue caped chancellor flying to the rescue. Whilst this is a welcome reform for the majority of house buyers it was also the government's mansion tax card played out as the abolition of an outmoded 'slab' system; providing the sweetener of a tax saving for lower value bands whilst still funnelling money from higher value properties in much the same way as Labour's derided proposals.
Outside the noise created by Stamp Duty, the Government seems happy that their previous reforms to the planning system are working well, illustrated by the six year high for housing starts and planning approvals. To build on these numbers the autumn statement has included significant further steps to speed up the end-to-end planning process for major and minor applications, thus supporting SMEs trying to push through projects. The plans include a consultation on speeding up section 106 negotiations and ensuring at least 50% of major applications are processed on time. There will also be further monitoring of local authority performance in relation to the eight-week timeframe for smaller planning applications.
Further good news for developers was announced with a vow to ensure that the principle of development need only be established once whilst the chancellor also released plans to make the Compulsory Purchase Regime clearer, faster and fairer with the aim of bringing forward more brownfield land for development.
Before we get too giddy, the statement has a sting in the tail for those involved in purchasing 'enveloped dwellings' as a further hike in the annual tax has been introduced for transactions where a home is owned through a company.
Affordable housing is once again at the forefront of the government's bid to stimulate the market and heave more first time buyers onto the ladder. The government is further investing in shared ownership by extending the scope of SDLT multiple dwellings relief to include "lease and leaseback" arrangements with housing associations on shared ownership properties.
Further to this initiative, figures released show that over the next parliament the government will build more new affordable homes than any equivalent period in the last 20 years.
However the question remains as to whether schemes such as help to buy are more important than the quantity of new builds available.
The Great Exhibition
In addition to announcements already made, it is clear Osborne is looking firmly at the North.
For instance an interesting shift in the HS2 schedule was announced, with plans to accelerate construction of the line from Birmingham to Crewe due to be decided next year. Manchester and Liverpool are also amongst the cities to benefit from £6bn investment in the UK's roads which also includes £170m of improvements to trans-Pennine routes.
In an unusual move for an Autumn Statement, we were treated to confirmation of Manchester's latest £78m theatre at the old Granada Studios site, which is great news for the development of the area whilst providing a permanent home for the Manchester International Festival. This was an added bonus for the city on top of the £300m Sir Henry Royce Science Institute – a massive fillip to an already burgeoning reputation for the city in terms of science. The more critical amongst us may note that the northern vote must be seriously worrying Downing Street but these announcements are, nevertheless, great news for the region! If an election can help move such projects along, maybe we should hold a vote every other year?
Finishing on a high
There was good news for SMEs in general as the small business rate relief will increase to £1,500 from April 2015 whilst the government has also responded to calls on business rates by announcing a much overdue review.
And finally, construction companies may have raised an eyebrow at potential tenders for flood defences planned in the region whilst, at the same time, potentially being able to take advantage of the government's ever more generous R&D tax relief (increased to 230%). Plus the small matter of protecting homes and businesses of course!
Overall there was a fair amount of sound bite and posturing in this Autumn Statement. However there is also plenty to chew on ahead of the election with a variety of legislation potentially having a positive impact on those in the property sector.
Stuart Stead is head of property and construction, Cowgill Holloway