Whether it was, as various opposition commentators claim, an autumn statement which resorted to ‘smoke and mirrors’ to deal with the budget deficit yesterday, the construction industry as a whole can breathe a collective sigh of relief over the implications for our sector. The Government has pledged to ‘double investment in housing to support home ownership, while also investing in the transport, science, energy and culture that are vital for the country’s long term economic future.’ This includes a million new homes during the term of this Parliament (of which 400,000 will be designated affordable housing), £120 billion allocated to infrastructure projects, and the creation of 3 million construction industry apprenticeships by 2020.
This is, of course, potentially very good news not just for large scale house builders but also for smaller developers, architects, contractors and all related engineering disciplines, though there are concerns over the lack of provision of affordable housing (and that affordability is affecting all sectors of the private housing market); a lack of focus on improving building energy ratings, a growing skills gap at all levels in the industry, and a squeeze on smaller firms in the industry.
A million homes over the life of this Parliament
Ben Derbyshire, chair of The Housing Forum, said: ‘The forum champions more homes and better homes so we welcome the priority given to spending on house-building in the autumn statement. We also welcome the commitment to build a million homes over the life of the parliament and we believe that improving housing supply is really the only effective way of tackling the affordability crisis. While housing supply and planning approval numbers have both increased, it’s a long road back to a balanced market, which will need all sectors of the industry to play their part. So we have some concerns about demand-side policies which rob social housing Peter to pay home-owning Paul, as a balanced housing market for all needs affordable homes to rent. The boost to private house-building on the supply side should now be accompanied with measures to ensure quality, and embrace modern techniques and manufacture.’
It is also widely felt that the Chancellor could have done more to incentivise smaller developers (in London, for example, 50% of new homes are delivered by just six major house builders), and offer tax breaks on refurbishment – which often has considerable environmental benefits – as well as doing more to assist specialist developments on tricky sites, for example where decontamination is needed.
Overall, however, it is a step in the right direction.