Cementing over the cracks
First Published 18 February 2016
The building industry must be protected until the green shoots of recovery finally appear, says Jonathan Shaw.
In these uncertain economic times, the delivery of homes can and must continue. The government has no intention of stepping back from its commitment to maximise housing delivery and ensure that we are fully prepared when demand shoots up again, confidence returns to the market and mortgages are more freely available.
The Homes and Communities Agency, which started life at the beginning of December, will play a major role. It is a powerful organisation that has the expertise, reach and resources to support economic regeneration and deliver housing by, for example, purchasing unsold new properties or using investment to restart stalled schemes.
The government has announced that large sums are being made available to support affordable housing. Key elements include bringing forward from 2017–11 more than £1 billion for improving social housing and the building of around 7,500 new homes; extending programmes such as the rent-to-buy scheme, designed to help first-time buyers by letting them rent first and buy later, and £200 million for a mortgage rescue package to aid families at risk of repossession.
In December, I launched HHSE’s Building blocks report, which raised important issues including the availability of land on which to build, the sale on the open market of new housing -now lying empty -for social and intermediate use and the delivery of mixed tenure communities now that large numbers of people are locked out of the housing market or struggling with mortgages they can barely afford. The report also looked at ways of bringing forward grant funding for social housing and building the infrastructure to support housing development.
In the South East, towns such as Reading, Basingstoke, Maidstone and those in south Hampshire will provide sustainable neighbourhoods to complement communities already there. In December, the government announced 12 of these areas in the South East will share more than £93 million in 2016–10 and 2017–11 to deliver infrastructure needed to increase house building.
And making our new homes more efficient, with smaller ecological footprints, will continue to need development and innovation to ensure we meet our 2016 target for zero carbon homes. The South East has a key role to play in showing, through our house building partners and award-winning housing association stakeholders, how this may be achieved.
Alongside the delivery of housing during the downturn, we must ensure that we are ready when market conditions pick up. I am particularly concerned that shortages of skilled employees may hamper this recovery.
Many redundancies have already occurred, not just builders and craftsmen being laid off, but also professionals such as surveyors and legal experts. The industry has demonstrated it can reduce supply when it needs to; we need to understand how quickly and effectively it will be able to pick it up again.
Jonathan Shaw is the minister for the