It is great to finally see some genuine debate on social housing triggered by the release of the hard-hitting ‘A Vision for Social Housing’ report released by housing charity Shelter last week. The very human cost of the effects of too few council homes available and people trapped in an expensive private rented sector which is all too often unsuitable for their needs were laid bare.
Shelter’s key recommendation was that we need to build an additional three million new social homes in order to properly address Britain’s housing crisis and I was delighted to read the comments from one of the commissioners who produced the report, Lord Jim O’Neill, who wants to see ‘investment in bricks and mortar’.
Such investment should never be seen simply as a cost to government – the report also highlights the overall financial benefits of increasing expenditure in this sector - calculating that for every £1 spent on construction, the UK economy receives £2.84.
In the current political turmoil it is reassuring to see that a strong commitment to addressing the housing shortage remains at the heart of domestic policy for all parties. Investment in social housing provides confidence of sustained demand and, in that environment, industry is far more likely to invest in technical innovation and the training and skill development required to deliver it.
I personally welcome the calls for more investment in social housing, however am wary of over-enthusiastic government intervention such as the allocation of public funds to only one particular building method, restricting the choice for those building our homes for the future.
There are benefits of off-site manufacturing, however, it is up to the industry to develop the solutions that will deliver a more efficient delivery model and it is unrealistic to expect it to change its entire business model overnight.
With the recent relative stability in demand, I can see the housebuilding industry increasingly focusing on innovation and new ways of working. The most effective, in my view, are those which build on existing expertise, producing a more gradual change in working practice – ultimately just as radical but without much of the risk involved in an abrupt move towards complete modular construction.
It is with this in mind, and working with our housebuilding partners, that we introduced our Celcon Elements into the market. I believe it is innovations like this which provide practical progression for the sector.
Celcon Elements, comprised of storey-high panels of aircrete can be used as part of a system-build package that helps bridge the gap between off-site and traditional masonry. The system uses build methods which are already familiar to the industry but with added efficiency.
The resulting speed of build is highly attractive to public sector developers, whose overriding concern is to complete the building process as fast as possible – not always the objective of a private developer – and we are seeing considerable interest from councils and housing associations who are looking for speed of build without the risk of opting wholesale for an entirely new building model.
The government has signalled it wants to make building new housing a priority and the sheer numbers of councils and housing associations bidding for funds to facilitate new development demonstrates they are willing to step up to the ambitious challenge of delivering 300,000 new homes per year. H+H is ready to supply the materials needed so let’s get building.