Features - Business

Housebuilding manifesto pledge scrutinised

With the launch of the Conservative manifesto highlighting a number of issues pertinent to the construction industry, we take a look at the response from around the sector.

The Conservative Party manifesto highlights some important steps to help boost house building in Britain, but fails to tackle the key problem stopping delivery – planning reform, says the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, commented: “Britain is currently experiencing a housing crisis, and today’s Conservative Party manifesto launch was an opportunity to set out a plan to deliver real change over the next five-years. The pledge to support smaller local builders, by requiring councils to set land aside for them, will be welcomed by FMB members, as will proposals to lift Section 106 requirements for smaller sites. However, if the housing crisis is to be successfully tackled reform of the planning system is urgently needed, something the Conservative Party has consistently failed to address.”

Berry continued: “The plan to build 1.6 million homes over the next five years, delivered through increased building on urban brownfield land, is positive, however it will remain insufficient to tackle the scale of the crisis the UK faces. The next government will need to go much further in delivering the homes that Britain needs. Earlier this year the FMB launched its own manifesto, Growth from the ground up, setting out a positive plan to boost the construction industry. The Conservative Manifesto was a missed opportunity to announce that they would launch a dedicated Housing Department in Whitehall, with a Secretary of State attending Cabinet, to ensure delivery is prioritised.”

Berry concluded: “The construction sector is a key pillar of the UK economy, and a thriving construction industry is essential to delivering sustainable long-term economic growth. The next government will also need to tackle the ongoing construction skills crisis; support the rollout of energy efficiency upgrades to existing homes; introduce a scheme to set a minimum competency level for builders; and provide wider business support to SME construction firms facing a difficult economic climate. Delivering on these areas will be vital in delivering a brighter future for our country.”

Meanwhile Justin Young, CEO at RICS, said: “Having delivered only 2.5 million homes over the last 14 years, the Conservative party has made an ambitious pledge to build 1.6 million homes over the next five years. That is over 300,000 new homes a year – which hasn’t been achieved since the sixties, a period during which the public sector and SME housebuilders had a far greater role in housing delivery. While it’s encouraging to see the Conservatives committing themselves to supporting small builders, this will not address the quagmire of laws that make up Britain’s restrictive and politically permeated planning system.

“We welcome any initiative that helps first-time buyers, but demand-side solutions must be combined with workable supply-side solutions. To begin improving affordability levels the UK must build more housing; there is currently a shortfall of 4.3 million homes in the UK by some estimates [Centre for Cities study].

“While a stamp duty cut would help in the short-term by enabling more buyers onto the first rung of the property ladder, it’s vital that we learn lessons from the past and introduce policies that address the plethora of structural issues that exist within house building. Supply must be addressed across all tenures, otherwise with Help to Buy 2.0 we risk a repeat of the negatives of the first scheme. While it did provide support for first time buyers, and gave confidence to housebuilders, it also inflated house prices across England, left thousands of buyers at risk of negative equity and failed to deliver good value for money for the taxpayer.”

The National Federation of Builders also said there was much to welcome, but Rico Wojtulewicz, the Head of Policy said there were concerns over “the commitment to brownfield and greenbelt protection”, as he said it is based on ‘gentle density’ in major cities and not ‘community density’ as the NFB has set out in its manifesto.

“This is because development built to a maximum of ten storeys, the gentle density definition, will pass the housing crisis on to the next generation as too few homes will be built, with mixed developments made broadly unviable. The NFB’s ‘community density’ approach ensures that in major cities, residential and non-residential needs are made viable in a well-designed and thoughtfully planned development.

“There is much to welcome in the manifesto, particularly on apprenticeship and technical education; however, much of it was already on the table and policies that are currently decimating SMEs, such as the viability killing Biodiversity Net Gain not being reformed. Small builders will likely conclude that if the Conservatives were to win the next election, they would experience another parliamentary term of warm words but no action.”

Sav Patel, associate director at planning consultant Lanpro Services, noted the ambition of the Conservative’s headline figure for housebuilding, but said the mechanisms set out to achieve this were “unbalanced”, with too much focus on urban developments.

“Bringing forward this type of development is often complex and lengthy,” he said. “There is no encouragement for higher delivery rates in the rest of the country.

“Meanwhile, the Conservatives are offering a ‘cast-iron’ protection for the Green Belt, which stands in contrast to Labour’s proposed review of Green Belt policy.”

Simon Gerrard, managing director of Martyn Gerrard Estate Agents, said: “These proposals by the Conservatives are devoid of imagination and emblematic of a party that is completely out of ideas.

“Last night the Prime Minister admitted that it has become harder for younger people to get onto the housing ladder. Despite this, his proposals today are rehashed policies that have so far failed to solve this crisis and will do nothing to solve the problem. The overwhelming cause of our children having nowhere to live is the total dearth of new supply coming onto market.

“Pledging to build 1.6 million new homes is hardly reassuring after their abysmal failure to meet their previous housebuilding targets. They are also doubling down on protecting the greenbelt, which desperately needs to be unlocked for development given the skyrocketing population growth in London. Meanwhile, there is nothing included to solve the nightmare of planning which has decimated building in this country.

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