A question of land

It was great to hear new Housing Minister Kit Malthouse reaffirm the government’s commitment to its target of building 300,000 new homes a year, and even more encouraging to hear some new ideas as to how Government can help to achieve this by increasing the supply of land for development.

Malthouse was speaking at the recent H+H sponsored Housing Market Intelligence conference in London. The minister said his mission was to build “More homes, better and faster”.

It is a goal that is starting to look achievable now that concerns over planning, a perennial problem cited by housebuilders for their slow build-out rates, appear to be easing following July’s long-awaited update of the National Planning Policy Framework for England.

The issue of supply now appears to be shifting towards the need to acquire the land on which to build in the first place. So it was reassuring to hear the minister say that he was “putting heavy pressure” on his ministerial colleagues in departments such as the MoD to put land on the market that could be used to build homes.

In addition to the potential availability of more government-owned land for housebuilding, two more recently announced Government initiatives point to a determination to accelerate the growth of public sector housing too.

A week before the HMI conference Theresa May announced the scrapping of the cap on council borrowing for council house building – a move that could see an estimated 10,000 additional homes a year being built.

Less headline-grabbing, but potentially equally significant was the announcement of a £2billion fund for Housing Associations. The significance here is not so much the total - £2 billion may not actually go very far when it comes to national housing need – but the fact that the money could be claimed at any point in the next decade – allowing HAs the luxury of some proper forward planning.

Kit Malthouse said the announcement “would send long term capacity signals about the ambition of the government to grow the housing market to give you [housebuilders] and the supply chain confidence to invest”. 

All of this seems timely, potentially encouraging an expansion in public sector housing that could be set to accelerate as the Help to Buy scheme winds down post-2023.

Once investment was on the agenda, however, the minister was keen to reiterate calls for housebuilders to expand their involvement with offsite construction and modular housing.

This is hardly a new theme and there seems little point in repeatedly berating private sector housebuilding companies for not making the huge up-front investment required in a market that is by its nature volatile and open to sudden and dramatic change: the vast majority of new homes will still be delivered by the private sector.

At H+H we have always believed that the introduction of Modern Methods of Construction will succeed more gradually, with progressively greater percentages of the structure being supplied to site as finished components.  This avoids both the colossal investment and risk involved in developing “house factories” and also allows the construction industry to accommodate change gradually.

This is where our own I-House concept, developed with SIG, sits in the market.  Storey-high aircrete panels combined with prefabricated floors and roof structures enable a familiar masonry home to be built on site in just a week.

We are having success with this method primarily in the delivery of affordable housing, where standard designs are needed to be delivered as quickly as possible – speed of delivery is seldom the overriding objective for private sector developments where build-out rates need to be matched with sales.  With this attractive solution available, we are viewing the accelerating attempts to stimulate public sector housing very positively.