First speech as housing minister acknowledges scale of problem and seeks ideas from the industry

Newly appointed housing minister Margaret Beckett has pledged to support the housing sector through difficult times, in her first public speech yesterday.

Speaking at the Housing Market Intelligence conference in London, Beckett described the downturn as the greatest economic crisis of the global age. She acknowledged that housing is one of the sectors hardest hit by the credit crunch and said the government is aware of the scale of the problem.

Margaret Beckett
Beckett: "No one in government is going to be Pollyanna-ish about this"

She said: “No one in government is going to be Pollyanna-ish about this. And no one is complacent about the scale of the problem facing all of us - and particularly facing you. And as the depth of the crisis has become clearer, we have already stepped up our response.”

Beckett said she is keen to hear ideas from the industry and looks forward to a progressive partnership. Pointing to the homebuyer direct scheme as an example of effective collaboration between the government and the sector, she said it is necessary to look at other ways in which the scheme could be developed.

Beckett added that although reduced demand from the private sector is likely to remain weak for some time, it could be offset by increased development in social housing, in which the government plans to invest £400m over the next few years. The government is also considering reducing the risk of new developments by bringing forward public sector land for development.

Describing the recent £37bn government bailout plan to rescue the UK financial system as extraordinary measures for exceptional circumstances, Beckett said that the housing market should soon start to feel the benefit as the banks begin lending again.

She added that the continued high demand for housing, a strong legacy of undersupply and the recent positive performance of share prices mean the industry is well placed to weather the storm.

“None of this is in any way meant to diminish the very real frustration and anxiety that I know many of you are feeling. But it is to stress that we are facing these challenges, together, from a strong foundation,” she said.

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, said the industry is at a “crossroads'' in terms of housing delivery. He welcomed the minister's speech but added that more government action will be needed to revive the housing market.