Aide to housing minister Shapps makes pledge despite worsening market

An assistant to housing minister Grant Shapps has said the government expects to build 230,000 homes a year by the end of the current parliament in 2015, despite repeated refusals from the government to set housebuilding targets.

Jake Berry MP, who is parliamentary private secretary to Shapps, told the Housing Market Intelligence conference in London that, “It is my hope and belief that we will reach 230,000 homes per year before the end of the parliament. It is certainly the government’s intention to do that by the end of the parliament.”

Berry’s comments come despite the abolition of Labour’s housing targets by the coalition government. Last year housing completions fell to 82,500, the lowest point since the First
World War.

Berry, who is Shapps’ point of contact with backbench MPs, admitted the government’s ability to meet the ambition could be damaged if it was forced to row back on the proposals for the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), or if not enough public land was forthcoming.

Berry’s comments come amid growing evidence that the market for housebuilders has worsened over the past month in the wake of the darkening economic climate, making this target harder to achieve. Housebuilders usually expect a bounce in sales in September as people return from the summer break, but a number of senior housebuilders have told Building that sales and site visitor numbers have been flat.

Steve Morgan, chairman at Redrow, said the market had softened. “People are turning on the TV and looking at the news and they’re being cautious. Is it any wonder?” he said. The firm’s group managing director John Tutte added: “It’s not a strong as we expected it to be.”

Figures due out next week from the National House Building Council, seen by Building, show that the average number of daily sales from builders fell in September to 244 from 257
in August.

Stephen Stone, chief executive of Crest Nicholson, said cancellations had risen 2-3% in the last month. “We normally see a bounce [in sales] but it’s just flatlining. There’s too much worry about job security.”

This week the RICS reported that house prices had continued to fall in September. However, a spokesperson for the Home Builder’s Federation denied the market had worsened noticably in September. He said: “Clearly these are challenging times, but it was pleasing that despite the continuing economic uncertainty, and unlike last year, our records show that there was an upturn for autumn and a definite  ‘hump’ in the graph.”