Construction industry reacts to housing white paper

Published:  08 February, 2017

The government has released a housing white paper, detailing a course of action to tackle the housing crisis in the UK. The paper has received mixed to positive reactions from across the construction industry.

In the foreword to the white paper, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “Our broken housing market is one of the greatest barriers to progress in Britain today. Whether buying or renting, the fact is that housing is increasingly unaffordable.”

The proposals in the white paper include the ability for local authorities to ‘seize’ land from developers who do not fully build on sites where they have planning permission, as well as a greater demand for developers to detail the size and timing of developments.

Additionally, emphasis is placed on bringing more small and medium-sized builders into the housing market, encouraging development of small sites, as well as making councils make better use of land by avoiding low-density homes and building higher in urban areas. The government will also simplify planning processes to this end, as well as ‘exploring an improved approach to developer contributions’.

“The current timeframe between planning permission and build is far too long, leading to stagnant projects. Councils will now need to keep all plans updated every five years and will play a vital role going forward, helping to focus efforts on a wider range of affordable housing and different delivery methods,” said Sarah White, residential sector manager at British Gypsum.

“We were also very pleased to note that support will additionally be given to small and medium businesses and housebuilders to help increase the potential of new housing stock.”

A core theme in the white paper is that the housing market is diverse across the country, and while the government will put into place general schemes and changes to promote the housing market and simplify processes, it will rely heavily on the involvement and cooperation of local authorities, housing associations and private developers to make these changes on a regional basis.

Naomi Heaton, chief executive of London Central Portfolio, said: “Very little detail was included as to how these policies will be executed or enforced. These announcements simply do not go far enough to tackle the growing lack of private rented sector supply – with a 1.8m shortfall anticipated by 2025, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. More information on the ban on letting agent’s fees was also absent, which now is to be subject to consultation.

“On the whole, the much-hyped housing white paper appears to do very little to ‘fix our broken housing market’.”

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, welcomed the emphasis on bringing more smaller builders into the equation, and recognised the need to change planning processes to make this easier.

“There is much that is good and sensible in the white paper, so let’s use it as a launch pad for a real step change in delivery. Local authorities are set to be given more resources and more powers,” he said.

“However, the targets arising from the new housing delivery tests, against which councils will be measured, will not be met with a continued over-reliance on large developers and large sites. If a local authority fails to meet its targets, it could lose control over its own planning policy and the threat of this should provide the impetus for councils to push more small sites through the system. It is in everyone’s interest to see small and medium-sized businesses play a far greater role in housebuilding and small sites are key to this.”

Meanwhile, the Builders Merchants Federation has welcomed the government’s ambitious proposals to boost housebuilding, with John Newcomb, managing director, saying: “We need more homes, of all tenures, that are built to high standards, use less energy and water, are pleasant to live in, and located where people want to live. However, building new homes isn’t the whole answer, we also need to make the most of the current housing stock that we have. This is why we welcome the government's attempts to encourage later life buyers to down-size, with dignity, to somewhere suitable for them. This then releases larger homes back into the market.”

Click here to read the housing white paper, ‘Fixing our broken housing market’, in full.

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