“Let’s get Britain building,” minister tells housebuilding sector

7 February 2017

The UK government has today set out ambitious housebuilding plans in its long-awaited housing industry white paper called “Fixing our broken housing market”.

The white paper includes reforms to the housing market and measures to increase the supply of new homes.

In essence, communities secretary Sajid Javid says the current system “isn’t working and is one of the greatest barriers to progress in Britain today”.

The Structural Timber Association (STA) has welcomed the plans, saying the government’s commitment was acting as a catalyst for change in the wider housing market, through supporting offsite manufacturing techniques. And the British Woodworking Federation (BWF) said the whole timber supply chain was ready to support local authorities in ensuring that the natural advantages of wood are put to good use in in delivering desperately need sustainable housing stock.

Details in the white paper include action to help small independent builders enter the market through a £3bn Home Building Fund – already flagged up in advance of the publication.

The government says around 60% of new homes are built by just 10 companies and the fund will help to build more than 25,000 new homes this Parliament and up to 225,000 in the longer term by providing loans for SME builders, custom builders, offsite construction and essential infrastructure, creating thousands of new jobs in the process.

There are also measures to reduce obstacles to housebuilding. This includes consulting on a new way of calculating housing demand to help local authorities meet projected household growth in their areas, as well as councils and developers being expected to use land more efficiently.

Local authorities will have powers to make sure developers build homes on time and shorten the timescales to require developers to start building within 2 years, not 3, when planning permission is granted.

The government also highlights research showing house affordability issues, with the average house now costing eight times more than average earnings – an all-time record.

“The only way to halt the decline in affordability and help more people onto the housing ladder is to build more homes,” said Mr Javid. “ Let’s get Britain building.”

Housing minister Gavin Barwell said the government will introduce a Lifetime ISA in April to support younger adults save flexibly for the long term, giving them a 25% bonus on up to £4,000 of savings a year which can be put towards the purchase of a first home.

And the wider range of government programmes will help “over 200,000 people” become homeowners by the end of the Parliament.

The 2016 to 2021 Affordable Housing Programme, originally designed to focus on delivering shared ownership, now sees funding restrictions relaxed so providers can build a range of homes including for affordable rent. This includes Rent to Buy homes alongside shared ownership.

Ministers have also reaffirmed the government’s commitment to the green belt and are taking action to radically increase brownfield development and to bring life back to abandoned sites.

They will also continue to support local authorities to tackle the empty homes problem.

STA chief executive Andrew Carpenter said offsite timber construction was the only way to reach the specified target of one million homes by 2020.

“We welcome the government’s commitment to act as a catalyst for change in the wider housing market, through supporting offsite manufacturing techniques,” he said.

“As the government pledges support for small and medium size developers, as well as initiatives for self and custom builders – in theory there is a lot of positive content in this White Paper.

“Making the planning system more accessible and releasing land that is currently in public sector ownership will certainly have an impact but only time will tell how it works in practise.”

He said the time was right for the construction industry to embrace innovative timber technology and offsite techniques to develop better buildings at a rapid rate to meet government targets, and overcome the shortfall in housing stock.

BWF chief executive Iain McIlwee also welcomed the white paper.

“What is not to like?" he said. "The Housing White Paper reaffirms the government’s commitment to resolve what really is the biggest issue on our socio-economic landscape.

"Rather than seeking a magic bullet, it is a broad strategy that covers all parts of the housing sector, ensuring that the volume housebuilders are free and encouraged to build on available land, and vitally creating an easier mechanism for the custom housebuilder to literally fill in the gaps.
“The strategy addresses the balance between ownership and rental properties. And through repeated reference to quality, it reaffirms that it is not just a numbers game, but seeks to ensure we are building quality properties that will stand the test of time – a strong underlying thinking which is very much a Natural Capital approach of not leaving a mess for future generations. This carries into the section on climate change and wherever possible has a positive impact on employment in the UK.
“So I am very relieved to see that the social and environmental opportunities have not been overlooked. The whole timber supply chain is ready to support local authorities in developing policies to support this approach, and of course to ensure that the natural advantages of wood are put to good use in delivering the sustainable housing stock we so desperately need.”

The government's new white paper sets out plans to kickstart housebuilding