Planning, skills and finance barriers remain before we can meet the UK’s housing needs

Debbie Aplin

As we get closer to the general election and with the party conferences looming, the provision of housing and employment opportunities remains high on the agenda and is doing much towards informing the emerging party manifestos. But to what extent have we as an industry succeeded in building more houses, selling more retail, building more offices and training or recruiting more managers, graduates and apprentices?

Housing minister Kris Hopkins stated recently that housing starts in England are at their highest since 2007. According to the NHBC, new home registrations rose by 30% in 2013 in England, the highest since 2007. London in particular has continued to rise and it is reported that registrations are up by 60%, the highest for over two decades.   

The figures for all new homes – in the table below – show a 5% decrease in completions between 2012 and 2013, but since do indeed show build starts have increased by 24% and, by the first quarter of 2014, are up 37%.


But that said, while starts are increasing nationwide and completions last year reached 135,400 homes, we are still a long way short of the governments aspirations of delivering 243,000 homes per annum for England alone. 

Yet the outlook is positive as planning permissions in 2013 were up by 24% from 140,555 to 174,471 plots, although many of these consents are only outline and will require reserved matters consents before start on site. However, the question still remains as to whether housebuilders can resource sufficient people and product to facilitate the new outlets that are required to bring forward more completions.

So how have we done on recruiting apprentice’s, graduates and the managers of the future? Statistics show that during the period 2012 to 2013, there were 14,000 apprenticeship starts in construction, planning and the built environment.  Although the industry still needs to do more work here, it is important to recognise its continuing commitment. While experienced site managers are in short supply, it is essential that we continue to encourage good training on site.

However, we can also make a difference by bringing though more graduates, especially in surveying, buying and technical roles. With build costs under pressure and product shortages still apparent, there is no better time to train managers than when departments are busy and facing innumerable challenges. It is an inspiring time to bring in technical trainees, particularly given the changes afoot in building regulations, to do with tackling climate change and on-site energy provision. 

The residential market is clearly not the only sub-sector of the industry enjoying an upturn. The occupational office market has shown signs of recovery, especially in London where in Q1 2014 take up was 3.7m ft2, some 25% above the 10 year quarterly average, according to Colliers. Outside London, requirements are definitely increasing although take up has been slower and there still remains a reasonable amount of supply. That said the industry is seeing an increase in speculative offices being developed in London and the South-east. Although this, in turn, is putting more pressure on the limited resources we all have in terms of tendering for work and managing build programs and budgets.

We can also make a difference by bringing though more graduates, especially in surveying, buying and technical roles

With all this growing activity and positive momentum, funding is the key to ensuring that the growth we are all talking about can actually be delivered. London is attracting large scale overseas investors and it is reported that our UK investors are being priced out of many deals. The flip side of this is that hopefully it will result in a ripple effect whereby UK investors will secure lucrative deals in the regions.  

So it is fair to say that the last year has been busy across all sectors of our industry and good opportunities are certainly available. The need now is to ensure that there is a stable policy background and that a clear message is delivered across the political spectrum to support the property industry in the longer term.

Debbie Aplin is managing director of Crest Nicholson Regeneration