With the Conservative Party Conference looming on the horizon, Alex Depledge, CEO & co-founder of Resi.co.uk, gives her wishlist on housing policy.
Boost supply further to meet demand
One of the main drivers of high house prices has been the ongoing supply/demand issues within the market. Whilst the government promised to invest an extra £44m into housebuilding in the 2017 Autumn Budget to deliver an average of 300,000 houses a year, we’re already below this target barely a year in. While there clearly needs to be more incentives for housebuilders and developers to build houses, we also need to consider other innovative solutions.
Modular housing, where parts of the house is built offsite can be an effective of way of building high numbers of properties.
Technology can also help speed up the process; robotic bricklayers can work five times faster than a human, while big data can now provide information on land at the click of the button and remote designs for potential developments that can make the initial steps of projects much speedier.
Fix the UK’s restrictive planning laws
A real barrier to increasing supply are the UK’s restrictive planning laws. They make it incredibly difficult not only for developers to get big projects approved, but also for regular homeowners to make any significant changes to their properties. The Federation of Master Builders commented earlier this year that the planning system was too “complex, difficult and costly to navigate” and we agree.
Councils across the UK have had their funding cut which has placed pressure on the planning teams who often now lack the resource to dedicate their time to more complex cases- particularly while meeting the required time frames from the government.
Our own research revealed a ‘postcode lottery’ where homeowners in the more affluent London boroughs were more likely to have applications approved. Hillingdon in West London, where the average house price is £452,056, was the worst borough homeowners were only 50% likely to get their application approved. In comparison, in Southwark and Richmond, where average house prices exceed £1m, the likelihood of approval was closer to 90%.
Building on the greenbelt
Research of a brownfield register earlier this year revealed more than 26,000 hectares of developable land, which could help reach the target of 300,000 of houses a year. Talk of building on the greenbelt is often met with heavy criticism. However, there are greenbelt sites that wouldn’t be classified as picturesque, for example those on the edges of train stations.
By no means do I mean building on all the greenbelt, but the government needs to be less concerned about nimbys protesting about land, and more concerned about how it could be used for housing when it isn’t fulfilling any other purpose.
Maintain access to EU Labour
One of the main concerns for UK housebuilders and developers is that access to EU labour after Brexit will be restricted. With limited uptake of apprenticeships in the UK, the ability to hire abroad will be incredibly important to the UK’s construction sector in the future.
An explanation is needed from the government on how Brexit will affect recruitment in the sector so that businesses can put plans in place. Those currently planning projects for next summer will not yet know how leaving the EU in March will affect the cost or feasibility of their plans. Some clarity is well overdue.