The government has a lot to learn from the experience of small builders
The new economy that will emerge from the deeps cuts in public spending and the increasing concerns about the environment will have a profound impact on the future of housing for years to come.
If the new government is to succeed in producing the homes needed for the future then it needs to learn from the experience of small builders, who form the vast majority of all builders in this country. New research commissioned by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), Housing Futures: Our Homes and Communities, by Anne Power and Laura Lane of the London School of Economics, reveals that reusing small empty sites of up to two hectares could more than meet the UK’s housing demand without building on green field land.
Small available sites of under two hectares within built up areas are rarely counted and micro-sites of half an acre of less are literally too numerous to count. Yet it is estimated that even in inner London, where population density is highest and land scarcest, there are enough micro-sites to supply all the new homes we need. Furthermore, if we are to make our existing homes greener and more energy efficient, then the building industry will have enough work to keep every small and medium-sized builder running to stay on top for the next 30 years.
However, there are serious challenges for both government and the building industry if we are to maximise these opportunities. The government for its part needs to enhance the role of the Energy Performance Certificates to ensure they are properly credited and validated. Strong incentives and ambitious targets for energy efficiency and energy saving measures at the point of sale or purchase of homes need to be introduced to help transform the pace of retrofit and give the reassurance that the construction industry needs to invest.
Planning needs to offer more flexibility in remodelling existing buildings and allow for the use of small infill sites and conversions. It also needs to favour higher environmental and energy saving standards for work in existing communities. For the SME building sector the immediate need is to enhance its reputation. To acquire a better reputation training needs more recognition and there is a need for stronger incentives to attract new people into the industry. In particular, apprenticeship systems need to gain recognition as the automatic route to a good job with high quality performance.
Given that the vast majority of building work that is done is repair and renovation and the vast majority of builders are small and medium sized enterprises a sustainable low carbon future for the future of our housing stock will depend on the success of small builders to rise to the challenge. There is now a real and urgent need to introduce accreditation to enable small builders to gain the recognition that they should deserve.
The FMB is committed to the accereditation challenge as it offers the best opportunity to champion the interests of small builders. Critically, the accreditation of builders would also deliver the modernisation of our housing stock through repair and investment, improve our energy efficiency through tried and tested methods, and deliver the homes that are now required in the low carbon age. The opportunity is there for the taking which is why the future for small builders to deliver our housing needs has never looked so exciting.
Brian Berry is director of external affairs at the Federation of Master Builders