With the UK’s largest housebuilders experiencing impressive share price growth over the last few years, a feel good factor was the ambient atmosphere at this year’s Home Builders Federation (HBF) policy conference. Presentations from investment bankers and HBF Director of Economic Affairs, John Stewart, cemented the general consensus that the UK housebuilding industry is in good shape. Despite a number of recent commentaries that the housing market has reached its peak, industry experts considered that the underlying political and economic strategies would continue to support growth for the next few years.
“Delivery” was the central theme of this year’s HBF Policy conference. The keynote address from Minister of State for Planning and Housing, Brandon Lewis MP, set out that the industry had achieved permissions for 253,000 new homes in 2015, a record performance! Lewis also stated that 86% of people wanted to own their own house and reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to home ownership, particularly for first-time buyers. He stated that, “No one would argue against the need for new homes, but the industry must now deliver.”
Confirming that the Government would be launching its prospectus on Starter Homes “imminently”, Lewis said that even though there was yet to be any formal definition of Starter Homes (it’s in the prospectus), some Councils had already granted permissions for such schemes. Definitely a case of watch this space, I think.
As usual, the planning system was seen as a blocker to delivery, particularly if the industry is to achieve greater supply over the next 2–5 years. Acknowledging the many flaws in the system, Lewis noted that Government was committed to further streamlining Local Plans and that he would be imposing deadlines, in statute, for Secretary of State decisions.
I’d generally agree that we need to continue to improve the planning system even though NPPF and NPPG have been majorly beneficial to the house building industry over the last few years. With the 2017 deadline looming for local authorities to have a Local Plan in place, we also need to ensure that these Plans are robust and properly evidence based.
By far the greatest barrier to delivery appears to be the skills gap. Launching a new programme, the Housing Building Skills Partnership, the HBF aims to upskill 45,000 new workers for the house building industry. At the same time, the HBF recognises the need for the all parts of the industry to work with its public sector colleagues to ensure delivery. Too often, projects are stalled due to a lack of incentives in some public sector bodies, such as the County Councils. It is fundamental that steps need to be taken in order to encourage and engage with skilled workers to help us deliver the homes we need.
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