Features - Business

One million homes by 2020? Expect delays

In 2015 the Conservative Party announced its plan to build one million new homes in Britain by the end of 2020. So now, as we near the end of 2019, what barriers are standing in the way of achieving this goal? Ashley Cooper, Managing Director of WMS Underfloor Heating discusses.

“On a topic as hot as the state of Britain’s housing crisis you might expect commentary to come from a major housebuilder, or investor perhaps. Why then, is an underfloor heating contractor talking about this? Well aside from the fact that in order to grow a successful business within the housebuilding industry you need to know something about how it operates and the challenges affecting it, but also, as a supply chain partner I know only too well how having the wrong contractors in place can impact on how Britain tackles its shortage of housing.

“When the Tories announced their plan, they also said there would be an ease on planning laws, an increase in available brownfield sites, an increase in budget allocation and generally a reduction in red tape to help builders (particularly smaller developers) get their plans off the ground. Success levels have varied somewhat around the country and end goals have shifted, but to me, the challenge of tackling Britain’s housing crisis extends far beyond the availability of land and fast track planning processes – it comes down to who’s actually delivering the job on the ground.

“Building new homes for Britain has to be a team effort. Supply chains have to be integrated and no one can play according to just their own rules – and this really is the essence of my commentary. As a supply chain partner, I’m painfully aware of the fiercely competitive tendering processes involved in securing new build work. What frustrates me, and I’m sure other reputable contractors, is when tenders are awarded to the lowest bidder – when in reality these contracts rarely deliver on time or budget. They also often incur Liquidated Ascertained Damages (LADs), which result in delays to project completions, not to mention a headache for all involved. Failing to deliver contracts on time happens too often – and it literally is such a waste of time. If tenders were quoted properly in the first place, at the right price and with a clear expectation on delivery timescales, it would actually save the developer money and help deliver the homes Britain so desperately needs, on time.

“To give an example, just three months ago, I received an email providing feedback on a job we lost out on for a prestigious residential contract in Central London. We spent a considerable amount of time and effort when tendering for the project, only to lose out to a competitor at the very final stages. We then heard, a few months in to the project that the first installation had been rejected by the follow on trades – who were building a case for delay which would result in further negotiation and additional cost to the client. This is a prime example of where a contractor might hit a required budget, but the exit cost will be much higher.

“These delays and subsequent costs are completely avoidable and this story is seen time and time again – seemingly counter-productive when the Government is trying boost Britain’s housebuilding process by focussing on making land available and easing planning laws. The industry and its supply chain need to step up to the mark too. But to throw another consideration into the mix, I think the discussion around addressing Britain’s housing crisis needs to extend beyond just the number of new homes needed: The housing stock we’re building now, needs to be an investment in our future – a healthy and sustainable future. Getting away with just the bare minimum on building regulations can’t be acceptable – we need affordable, healthy, efficient and smart new homes. When the pressure is felt by local authorities to approve new development plans, we can’t let this be a repeat of the post-war prefabricated units. My comment isn’t to be taken literally here, more the concept of building lots of homes in a short space of time, can mean little attention is made to future-proofing. As an underfloor heating provider, we strongly advocate the health, efficiency and maintenance benefits (to name but a few) which are associated with a concealed radiant heating system. But very few new homes are built with underfloor heating as standard, even thought it’s actually quicker and cheaper to install than traditional convection systems (radiators).

“The plan to build one million new homes by 2020 grabbed the headlines, and while a best foot forward approach was applied by the UK Government, the reality of delivering this many new homes is far more complex. Open and honest supply chain communication has to rise up the list of priorities, because until we’re all on the same page, the housebuilding industry can’t possibly deliver what’s expected of it: Healthy, sustainable new homes, built on time, on budget and on a large scale.”

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