If you own a house, good news! If you don't, you may want to go read about kittens for a bit

House prices are set to rise by almost 20% in the next five years.

Savills, the luxury estate agent, has revised upwards its estimates for the growth in house prices over the next five years. The firm now expects UK house prices to average 18.1 per cent growth over the period, up from the 11.5 percent in the original forecasts published in November.

A significant chunk of the increase comes from Savills' changed forecast for this year. The company had predicted a rise of just 0.5 per cent, but now expects prices to grow by 3.5 per cent over 2013 alone. It cites the government's "Help to Buy" policy, which subsidises purchases of newly built homes, for the changes.

Lucian Cook, the director of of Savills residential research, explains:

A combination of low interest rates and stimulus measures means there is capacity for improved price growth over the next three years or so. But it comes at the price of later price growth in 2016/17 when interest rates are expected to start rising. Overall, this means that on an inflation-adjusted basis our revised forecasts indicate that prices will increase by just 2.3% over the next five years.

Help to Buy goes further than any of its predecessors in being aimed at all buyers, not just first time buyers, but we believe its primary impact will be increased transaction levels and that higher than expected price growth is a secondary impact. It needs to be considered against the context that the market remains only partially functioning. While the combined package of Help to Buy measures could add 400,000 transactions over the next three years or so, they would still remain 24 per cent below pre crunch levels.

Cook also dismisses concerns that Help to Buy could provoke a second house price bubble, arguing that the conditions which the scheme imposes prevents that. Moreover, he points out that "rising market activity has been due to increased turnover of existing debt rather than the creation of new debt that defined the late nineties/early noughties market".

That's a bittersweet caveat, however. What it means is that people already on the housing ladder are starting to buy and sell again – but that people who don't currently own a house (or, more specifically, have a mortgage) aren't getting a foot on the first rung.

Despite Help to Buy's name, the policy represents a decreased focus on first-time buyers from its predecessor, FirstBuy. To be eligible for that programme, you had to be a first-time buyer. That ensured it targeted its aid, but also led to it being a failure in the grand scheme of things, spurring the construction of just 6,493 homes as of February this year. Help to Buy, by contrast, is open to anyone buying a new build worth under £600,000.

The purported value to people not on the property ladder of the scheme is indirect. By subsidising purchases of new houses, it ought to incentivise housebuilding, which, in the long run, is what we need to get house prices down to a sensible level. But in the short term, it seems to just be boosting the price of homes which were going to be built anyway. That's good for the developers – and good for the lucky holders of subsidised mortgages – but does little to calm the fear that propertyless people have that they may never get on the ladder.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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The government needs more on airports than just Chris Grayling's hunch

This disastrous plan to expand Heathrow will fail, vows Tom Brake. 

I ought to stop being surprised by Theresa May’s decision making. After all, in her short time as Prime Minister she has made a series of terrible decisions. First, we had Chief Buffoon, Boris Johnson appointed as Foreign Secretary to represent the United Kingdom around the world. Then May, announced full steam ahead with the most extreme version of Brexit, causing mass economic uncertainty before we’ve even begun negotiations with the EU. And now we have the announcement that expansion of Heathrow Airport, in the form of a third runway, will go ahead: a colossally expensive, environmentally disastrous, and ill-advised decision.

In the House of Commons on Tuesday, I asked Transport Secretary Chris Grayling why the government is “disregarding widespread hostility and bulldozing through a third runway, which will inflict crippling noise, significant climate change effects, health-damaging air pollution and catastrophic congestion on a million Londoners.” His response was nothing more than “because we don’t believe it’s going to do those things.”

I find this astonishing. It appears that the government is proceeding with a multi-billion pound project with Grayling’s beliefs as evidence. Why does the government believe that a country of our size should focus on one major airport in an already overcrowded South East? Germany has multiple major airports, Spain three, the French, Italians, and Japanese have at least two. And I find it astonishing that the government is paying such little heed to our legal and moral environmental obligations.

One of my first acts as an MP nineteen years ago was to set out the Liberal Democrat opposition to the expansion of Heathrow or any airport in southeast England. The United Kingdom has a huge imbalance between the London and the South East, and the rest of the country. This imbalance is a serious issue which our government must get to work remedying. Unfortunately, the expansion of Heathrow does just the opposite - it further concentrates government spending and private investment on this overcrowded corner of the country.

Transport for London estimates that to make the necessary upgrades to transport links around Heathrow will be £10-£20 billion pounds. Heathrow airport is reportedly willing to pay only £1billion of those costs. Without upgrades to the Tube and rail links, the impact on London’s already clogged roads will be substantial. Any diversion of investment from improving TfL’s wider network to lines serving Heathrow would be catastrophic for the capital. And it will not be welcomed by Londoners who already face a daily ordeal of crowded tubes and traffic-delayed buses. In the unlikely event that the government agrees to fund this shortfall, this would be salt in the wound for the South-West, the North, and other parts of the country already deprived of funding for improved rail and road links.

Increased congestion in the capital will not only raise the collective blood pressure of Londoners, but will have severe detrimental effects on our already dire levels of air pollution. During each of the last ten years, air pollution levels have been breached at multiple sites around Heathrow. While a large proportion of this air pollution is caused by surface transport serving Heathrow, a third more planes arriving and departing adds yet more particulates to the air. Even without expansion, it is imperative that we work out how to clean this toxic air. Barrelling ahead without doing so is irresponsible, doing nothing but harm our planet and shorten the lives of those living in west London.

We need an innovative, forward-looking strategy. We need to make transferring to a train to Cardiff after a flight from Dubai as straightforward and simple as transferring to another flight is now. We need to invest in better rail links so travelling by train to the centre of Glasgow or Edinburgh is quicker than flying. Expanding Heathrow means missing our climate change targets is a certainty; it makes life a misery for those who live around the airport and it diverts precious Government spending from other more worthy projects.

The Prime Minister would be wise to heed her own advice to the 2008 government and “recognise widespread hostility to Heathrow expansion.” The decision to build a third runway at Heathrow is the wrong one and if she refuses to U-turn she will soon discover the true extent of the opposition to these plans.

Tom Brake is the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton & Wallington.