Builders welcome UK govt plan to commission new homes

The UK Government, which has announced that it will directly commission the building of thousands of new homes, is being urged to offer small sites for the plan.

According to the Federation of Master Builders the availability of small sites is the greatest barrier currently faced by SME house builders when it comes to delivering new homes and it hopes the building of 13,000 new homes on public land will alleviate the problem.

‘The Government clearly recognises that we need to bring more small house builders back into the market if we have any hope of addressing the housing shortfall. Directly funding developments on publicly owned land, with planning permission already granted, should encourage growth of smaller builders and new entrants into the market,’ said Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB.

‘The public land that is being made available through direct commissioning must be broken down into small and micro plots wherever possible. As the Housing Minister himself has recognised, the smaller the site, the quicker it will get built out,’ he explained.

‘If the Government wants to truly tap into the potential of SME house builders, it should bring forward a wide range of packages of land, including those attractive to the smallest of developers, thereby improving both capacity and speed of delivery,’ he pointed out.

‘As positive as this development is however, it remains only one piece of the jigsaw. The on-going skills shortage is as pertinent for local firms as it is for larger contractors. We desperately need more skilled tradespeople in the industry, otherwise even supportive plans such as those announced today will be challenging for builders to deliver. Boosting apprenticeship training among construction SMEs will be crucial to this,’ he added.

The move has been welcomed by the Home Builders Federation (HBF) but it added that allowing smaller builders to access publicly owned sites must be part of wider set of measures to assist SME builders and get more 'players on the pitch'. 

‘Increasing the amount of developable land with planning permission is essential if we are to increase output further. Bringing forward public land more quickly has long been a priority for successive Governments, so concrete measures to achieve this are welcome,’ said executive chairman Stewart Baseley.

‘Direct commissioning will only be successful if it speeds up the release of public sector land and results in more house building than would have happened using the more traditional methods of public sector land disposal,’ he added.

He also pointed out that a lower risk model could allow larger builders to increase their output still further, while also enabling smaller house builders to increase output and both have an essential role to play. It is not a question of either/or.

‘We desperately need to increase supply even further and faster than the current rate of increase, and speeding up delivery of public sector sites can play an important role in achieving this. In addition, if Starter Homes can increase demand by targeting a new section of the market, this will complement the supply measures announced today,’ he concluded.
According to Kim Vernau, chief executive officer of BLP Insurance, the fact that previously public land will be sold with planning permission already in place will help address concerns over risks associated with brownfield sites which has historically deterred smaller building companies from taking on big construction projects.

‘Over the last nine years we have seen a rapid decline in smaller house builders, faced with increasing regulations and a burdensome and protracted planning process. Cutting through this red tape is crucial and this step should be seen as encouraging for the UK housing industry and for consumers seeking either affordable or privately owned homes,’ he said.

But Nick Sanderson, chief executive officer of Audley Retirement Villages, is concerned about the emphasis on new builds as the answer to the UK’s housing problem. ‘The problem is this policy addresses the symptoms rather than underlying causes of the lack of fluidity in the housing market, most importantly under occupation,’ he said.

‘Reports show two in five UK homes are under occupied, of which half are occupied by those aged 50 to 69. Baby boomers are finding themselves stuck in this type of unsuitable housing because of the lack of quality accommodation available for them to move into,’ he explained.

‘The Government needs to change its policy to consider the whole market and how to provide a greater, more attractive range of choices for older people that in turn will encourage downsizing and free up huge swathes of much needed family housing,’ he added.