The government is putting both funding and policy in place to get new housing delivered more quickly and encourage small and specialist developers. Now it’s up to all parts of the industry to get a move on and build more homes
The government’s response to the housing shortage suggests it’s time to accelerate delivery. This is welcome.
The focus on the acute need to speed up delivery was evident at the Conservative Party conference and was backed up by funding commitments. It soon became clear that some of this had been announced before and, of course, we have yet to see the detail. However, £5bn on accelerating delivery has to be seen as positive news.
First is the £3bn Home Building Fund, designed to deliver more than 225,000 homes by opening up the market and making it easier for small and medium sized builders to deliver new homes and to encourage custom-builders; second is £2bn for accelerated construction on public land. Next, the government said it intended to make it easier to build on brownfield sites such as abandoned shopping centres.
The emphasis is now very much on acceleration and creating opportunities for more firms to play a role in an expanded housebuilding programme. It is not about reinventing the wheel – it is all about making it spin faster.
These are signs of the Treasury’s frustration with the industry – we simply have not been building quickly enough and there is an urgent need to change
The Home Building Fund is split between £1bn for short-term loans to small and custom housebuilders and £2bn for long-term funding for local infrastructure to unlock new house building opportunities. This second element is very much a continuation of the Growing Places Fund and an indication of a renewed interest in infrastructure projects that have early economic and housing growth impacts. Whether this will come at the price of delays or amendments to large infrastructure projects, notably HS2 and Crossrail 2, remains to be seen.
The £1bn for small and custom housebuilders brings a welcome focus on encouraging more players, and there’s no doubt it is ambitious, with a goal of effectively doubling the speed of delivery to enable the completion of 25,000 more homes by 2020. This is an opportunity for the Home Builders Federation, the Federation of Master Builders and others to find ways to encourage growth, and opportunities for smaller and specialist developers and contractors to get building new homes – quickly. We have lost too many small housebuilders and we need to revive them before extinction becomes a real possibility.
If this fund is to achieve its desired impact, the process must not be too complicated nor access to funding and planning too difficult. It sounds obvious but, believe me, this needs saying many times over. The arrangements and guidelines need to be easy, effective and affordable if we are to get anywhere near the speed required to deliver the number of homes the country needs.
Trade bodies need to step up to the plate and provide examples of what works and challenge unnecessary complications. At the same time, those in government can help by excluding obvious pitfalls. In particular, the funding needs to be organised from the mindset of a small or medium-sized housing construction or development firm, not from the mindset of the Treasury. Strangely, they can be quite different.
We must also ensure that the focus on small developers is not to the detriment of larger firms. This has to be about additional supply, not replacement
The Home Building Fund and the additional £2bn for accelerated construction on public land, combined with the proposals to make regeneration easier on brownfield land, are signs of the Treasury’s frustration with the industry – we simply have not been building quickly enough and there is an urgent need to change. Even when it comes to planning, the focus seems to be on securing consent for small applications at relative speed where the process might already be in train, encouraging a wider variety of developments of all shapes and sizes.
When it comes to accelerated construction and more direct commissioning on public sector land, existing timescales and approaches must not be accepted as the norm. The very purpose of these packages is to challenge those norms, and we need imagination and pace to deliver their goals.
We must also ensure that the focus on small developers is not to the detriment of larger firms. This has to be about additional supply, not replacement. The challenge is for all parts of the sector to speed up and build more homes.
There is no shortage of demand for all tenures, from market sale to affordable rented homes. Civil servants therefore need to sort the details out quickly so the funds can be put to work. Hopefully, the promised white paper will go a long way to satisfying demand. If you are wondering what to do in the interim, now is the time to get ready to start on site.
We need to get cracking. We need to get Britain building – again.
Richard McCarthy is senior director strategic services at Capita