The housebuilding industry is eager to break new ground. Represented by a panel of renowned experts at the WhatHouse? New Homes Debate on 20 September, the industry spelled out what it needs to fix London’s housing crisis.
- New blood
The housebuilding industry has something of an image problem. Despite offering some of the best prospects for young people, jobseekers are turning their noses up at a career in the housebuilding industry.
“The average age of people in the trade is 50-55,” said Stephen Trusler, Accommodation Sector Leader, Laing O’Rourke, Senior Director, Strategic Services, Capita Property and Infrastructure. “We cannot encourage people at the starter age. The real reason for that isn’t to do with the schools or colleges. Very few people have an aspiration for their children to be bricklayers and decorators.”
- A bonfire of red tape
Brexit calls for a shakeup, with developers naming OJEU, the CIBT levy on apprenticeships, CILs and stamps duty as the first things they’d throw into a fire.
“The boldness of the new mayor should be something revolutionary,” said Colin Stanbridge, Chief Executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Perhaps, in return for a bonfire of red tape, developers have to oversupply affordable homes. Something big needs to be done to energise people, especially in light of Brexit.”
- A speedier planning process
SMEs are especially hard hit by a drawn-out planning process, as a delay in getting onsite can send a small developer under.
“Local authorities need more support in the planning department. Are developers prepared to pay a premium to provide planning departments with more staff to get through that process quicker?” Suggested Mark Collins, Chairman of Residential CBRE and LCCI Property & Construction Group Chairman.
- Find new ways of using land
While some argue the greenbelt needs to be reclassified, others say space within London’s existing boundaries can be used more wisely. Either way, new land needs to be found.
“Green belt is important – no one wants to live in a concrete jungle,” said Darren Rodwell, Leader of barking & Dagenham Council. “At the same time, having 20 golf courses in one borough is a bit excessive.”
“Too often we look at how to meet London’s growth challenges by growing the city and gobbling up the greenbelt; in reality we have to think very carefully about land use within the existing footprint of the capital,” said Stanbridge.
- Reinvent rental
Is the government stuck in the 1980s? Home ownership doesn’t suit everyone, and the built to rent sector can deliver an urgently needed variety of accommodation and tenures.
“Where do we want to be in five or 10 years? One of those areas is moving away from the government’s obsession with home ownership as a means to drive housing delivery,” said James Lidgate, Director of Housing, Legal & General.
- Fiscal devolution
Sadiq Khan has been demanding greater autonomy for London since the UK insisted on severing ties with the EU. Everyone seems to be in agreement that for the new mayor to have any real chance of solving the housing crisis, he needs greater control over the purse strings.
“What the Mayor has lacked is any real power to raise funds,” said Stanbridge. “If we have more fiscal devolution, we need greater collaboration across boroughs. Westminster planning department is good – other boroughs don’t have the same wealth. Fiscal devolution will energise that.”
- Builders of all shapes and sizes
50,000 homes a year is a heck of a lot. Big builders simply can’t do it on their own. Unfortunately, many SME builders never managed to tunnel their way back from the dark days of 2008; there are 65% less of them since the financial crisis. Many smaller sites, overlooked by larger builders, will remain undeveloped if we lose anymore.
“As lenders, we have a duty to find new and innovative ways of funding smaller developers,” said Charles Haresnape, Group Managing Director, Aldermore. “Our call is to government to work with us and find more schemes to fund SME sites.”
- Greater collaboration
To muster up the sort of pace and scale needed to solve the housing crisis, the industry cannot afford to work in silos.
“How can it be right that central and west London, which are a lot more affluent, get a lot more subsidies for building homes,” said Rodwell. “We’ve got to start making a fair balance across London and looking at it as a collective responsibility rather than isolated pockets of responsibility.
- Team housing with infrastructure
Whereas they sound like they should go together, the huge potential for marrying transport with housing is only just being realised.
“Should we sell off our land to keep fares down, or should we be investing in building home above our network that Londoners can afford?” asked Graeme Craig, CEO of Transport for London. “Unequivocally, people who use our network wanted us to build more homes.”
- Get building
Chairman William Hague had the grace to sit silently while panelists accused politicians of too much chatter. Developers were ready to roll up their sleeves and get building.
“There is no shortage of land,” said Tony Pidgley, Chairman of Berkeley Group and President of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Let’s get on with it.”