Don’t blame developers and foreign investment for housing shortage
Some developers have been reported as having “set up shop” in China to lure more purchasers for their UK developments. Quite why there is such a fuss about that is hard to fathom. It isn’t rocket science.
The Chinese want to invest in the UK - not only in the residential market, but also the commercial, and, it would seem, in our infrastructure projects, as evidenced by their offer to help fund HS2. Their desire to invest in the UK has been fuelled by a number of factors: the liberalisation of China’s currency, the slowdown in the country’s manufacturing activity, the tighter controls on buying property in China causing prices to slow, the growth in the number of high-net-worth individuals – even better air quality and increasing numbers of Chinese children attending the UK’s top schools.
Developers sell off plan so they can gauge the financial viability of their developments or phases. By the time they get this this point, a huge amount of time and money will have already been spent and invested just to get to the stage of marketing the proposed development, thanks to the pressures on available land (particularly in London) and the expensive and frustrating planning process. And let’s not forget the obstacle of securing available, viable funding options.
If developers can secure foreign investment that will help secure the financial viability of the developments more quickly than might otherwise be the case (if at all), helping them do more development, then that is a good thing for us all
Selling off plan to people who want to buy and have the capital to do so boosts developers’ cash flow and improves their funding ability, causing schemes that might not otherwise go ahead to proceed. If a scheme isn’t financially viable, what good would that be for the UK’s housing shortage and the provision of affordable sale or rental units as part of the planning requirements? If developments don’t proceed, developers cannot deliver these or contribute to their costs, and that helps no one.
We are being fed, it seems at every turn, the view that Chinese investment is a bad thing and the root cause of the UK’s housing shortage. Only last week there was yet another MP waxing lyrical about how new-build homes should be marketed to domestic buyers before foreign ones.
The UK’s housing shortage has come about for a number of reason: nervousness about the economy, insecurity about personal financial stability, shortage of funding to individuals and businesses alike, as well as the lack of commercial viability thrown up by a reduction in demand over the last (long) few years. The lack of land supply also doesn’t help. There is a huge amount of public land that could be thrown into the pot more quickly and in more volume than is being done, but even then, the land needs to be available well in advance of construction to cope with the huge financial and time commitments that developers face in securing planning permissions, let alone starting a development. Help to Buy has helped fuel demand, but has done nothing to address supply issues.
Developers have the ability to deliver the housing – whether that be for sale or rent–- but like any other businesses, they need to make a profit. If they can manage to secure foreign investment that will help secure the financial viability of the developments more quickly than might otherwise be the case (if at all), helping them do more development, then that is a good thing for us all.
The property market imploding is almost a sure thing, is nothing new and is something that is helped along its way by many factors including our government’s approach to Help to Buy, as well as external market factors … Not a great deal to do with developers.
Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, said recently that we are “powerless to limit foreign-driven growth in London”. Thank goodness for that! It will help the UK economy.
What we need to do is stop looking to blame those who are, in fact, helping to – and who the UK needs to – reduce the housing shortage, and address the real issues: the land supply and fast tracking the planning process.
Stephanie Canham is national head of projects and construction at law firm Trowers & Hamlins