Brian Berry of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), considers what the new Government must focus on, for construction to prosper as the dust settles.
Certainty has finally been restored after a summer with a caretaker government. The lack of direction over the last few months did no favours for small, local housebuilders who have a myriad of issues piling up, with costs being central to their worries. As economic woes set in, plans for growth must be big and bold, recognising the contribution of local housebuilders to regional growth.
The new Government needs to hit the ground running and deliver for an ailing industry, through what might be one of the toughest periods this country has faced for decades.
LIE OF THE LAND
Unfortunately, the Department for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing (DLUCH) never really had the chance to get motoring under the leadership of Michael Gove. He did have some ambitious plans for levelling up and housebuilding, but the Department’s output never matched the ambition. What has been produced in the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill has merit, but doesn’t do enough to boost the ever-declining housing delivery of small builders. I’ll look to see what happens to the Bill under this new administration, perhaps they’ll look more closely at SMEs – I can live in hope.
Simon Clarke is now in charge of DLUHC, he has in his earliest address to staff said that he’d push forward with the levelling up agenda. Despite some noting that this policy, which had been a pillar of Boris Johnson’s leadership, would be phased out or renamed. At the time of writing, we are yet to find out who will be our twenty-second Housing Minister since 1997. As I’ve noted many times before, there has never been much certainty for the housing sector. What the industry needs at this pivotal time is stability. With the economy turning sour, and consumers becoming careful with finances, the nation’s smaller builders are at the forefront of feeling the pinch. We’ve certainly seen the warning signs from our industry and beyond, so affirmative action to support the sector is a must.
UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT
With Liz Truss as the new Prime Minister and Simon Clarke leading the charge in DLUHC, what does the new management need to do? At the top of the list must be simplifying the planning system and ensure that it works for smaller developers. Currently it’s complex, costly and stops FMB members from delivering homes. Small sites need to be prioritised and local councils need to be given the resources to identify them. This will mean that more housing, designed for the community and reflective of the local area will be delivered. But vitally, it means a healthier market for small builders; which will enable them to better absorb the cost impacts associated with the interim Building Regulation changes, Future Homes Standard, biodiversity requirements, and nutrient neutrality mitigation.
In the coming weeks, the FMB will be launching its annual House Builders’ Survey 2022 which is the only survey of its kind to track the market for SME housing developers and this will provide the data on the latest issues hindering the sector. We will of course be using this in our engagement with DLUHC and with the new Ministers.
WHAT DO TRUSS AND CLARKE NEED TO DO?
As with all business, small, local housebuilders have not benefited from the stagnancy which gripped Whitehall. We now need to see delivery. Which is the new mantra of the Truss administration. I welcome the delivery of hard-hitting, ambitious policies and the cutting of so-called red tape where appropriate. This could help turn the SME housing sector around, but also enable net zero ambitions and levelling up.
What’s clear is that local economies need boosting, and I would like to see local housebuilders at the forefront of driving this forward. They enable people in their communities to train locally and work locally which uplifts every town, village and city in equal measure. The new Government has an opportunity to make local growth a reality, and the industry is waiting to see what their idea of delivery looks like.