Anthony Hilton: Boris's housing plan is more stunt than strategy

Nothing gets people going like house prices. I did a piece elsewhere which pointed out that for the cost of a small family house in Fulham you could now buy a street in Sunderland. That was on Monday. By Wednesday, Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, was demanding that his London Authority should be allowed to collect the hundreds of millions of pounds raised in stamp duty on the sale of expensive homes in the capital. He would then use those funds to finance the building of affordable homes so millions of ordinary Londoners – those already here and others forecast to arrive in the coming decade – would have at least some chance of getting on the housing ladder.

In theory it is not a bad idea, but Boris knows as well as everyone else that there is not a chance of it happening. The Treasury is determined not to loosen the purse strings for any local authority. And I doubt whether Messrs Cameron and Osborne would support a plan which would give Boris the opportunity to raise his profile even higher. So it was more stunt than strategy.

Elsewhere, though, things do appear to be getting easier. On Tuesday the chief executives of half a dozen of the largest building societies after the Nationwide – like the Skipton, Nottingham, Cambridgeshire – hosted a lunch to raise their profile and to stress that they were very much open for business with money to lend. One, the Nottingham, even said it had 90 per cent mortgages available in its home area for the right kind of buyer, but has surprisingly few takers – largely because the economic uncertainty was making people nervous about taking on such a large commitment.

The good thing was that they all seemed genuinely up beat. Clearly times are still difficult but the money was beginning to flow again , activity was picking up and they all thought it was definitely getting better.