21 Jun 2018

Public perceptions of building are changing, but we need to build the right type of homes to meet demand

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Public perceptions of building are changing, but we need to build the right type of homes to meet demand

This month, we learned that construction figures are marginally down by 3.4%, (based on ONS Output in the Construction Industry April figures), which the Federation of Master Builders said was, “the biggest fall since the latter stages of the recession in August 2012”.

We also learnt from comparison website ReallyMoving that the mid-weight professions, such as police officers and teachers, are now only able to access less than 10% of the housing market in London in relation to average earnings (at 8% and 7% respectively) and only 13% and 14% respectively in Birmingham. Check out its interesting – if depressing page about it!

Both of these are worrying trends at a time when the LGA warns that Right to Buy is decimating social housing.

It commissioned analysis by Savills, that recently found that two-thirds of councils will have ‘no chance of replacing homes sold off under Right to Buy on a one-for-one basis in five years’ time unless a significant restructuring of the scheme take place’.

This is a worrying indictment of the policy, that highlights a need to return to the council building programmes of previous years if we’re to meet our housing need.

So it’s just another month in property, in a market that seems to further widen the disconnect between homes and people wanting to buy.

Changing views of building

But its not all doom and gloom, as these findings are tempered by recent findings from the Public Attitudes to House Building Survey 2017.

It reports that in 2017, 55% of people were supportive of new homes being built in their local area. This indicates that the message is finally getting through to the public, that in order for us to build more homes, we need public sanction to support this.

This is consistent with the results from 2014 when 56% of respondents were supportive, and shows that there has been an increase in support over time, up from 47% in 2013 and 28% in 2010.

“The strength of opposition to new homes has decreased since 2010. In 2017, the proportion of respondents stating they would strongly oppose new homes being built in their local areas was 5%, compared to 15% in 2010.”

So in eight years, the perception of development has shifted considerably. But if we want to capitalise on this uplift, we need to ensure that the right type of homes are being built, that are further endorsed by communities – and this is where Custom Build can help.

The findings are significant as we need to embrace development if we’re to house our population, as supply and demand is a key driver of housing costs. Currently affordable mortgage finance and Help to Buy bolster the market, but if interest rates change it will impact on costs and further decrease sales.

Moving forwards, higher-density homes have to be a core part of the solution, especially if we want to soothe the ungrounded fear of the countryside being concreted over. But higher-density can still represent a change locally, compared to what’s come before.

Neighbourhood Development Plans give people greater say in what happens locally, although interestingly, the Public Attitudes Survey found a split on the question of who should decide where new homes get built.

Of those who responded, 50% said the council should decide, while 41% said local communities should decide.

Neighbourhood Plans and housing

Where new homes get built is always a contentious issue, and the Neighbourhood Plans give voice to local communities about the shape of local development.

Government firmly believes that the Neighbourhood Plans positively contribute to increased housing delivery, claiming that they allocate, on average, 10% more homes than council’s local plans.

It is firmly committed to them, as evidence by Housing Minister Dominic Raab announcing in March a £23 million fund for groups preparing neighbourhood plans.

However, despite Government’s assertion that the plans do actually boost housing delivery, its funding offer included the option of an extra £8,000 grant for groups if they met certain criteria, one of which is the allocation of housing sites.

This would suggest that Government is conscious of the possibility that they’re not quite performing as expected in terms of boosting housing supply.

Research published by Lichfields recently, reflects this concern, with its findings leading it to state that, “neighbourhood planning’s contribution to increasing planned housing appears negligible”.

It based this research on the assessment of 330 ‘made’ Neighbourhood Plans, and the outcome was that it found that these plans have a tendency to focus on “broader local issues”. These encompass everything from green spaces to infrastructure provision, with only a “very few” containing a housing target or allocation.

In fact, only 40% of ‘made’ Neighbourhood Plans contain such a housing target or allocation. In addition, Lichfields found that only 15 of the 330 reviewed plans proposed more housing than the Local Plan in those areas, with these 15 plans boosting housing by an average of just 3% in comparison to their Local Plans.

The question arises then of how to incentivise communities to consider housing in their local plans. As Lichfields states, “It remains to be seen whether communities will embrace the national housing challenge at the local level, and contribute to genuinely boosting the supply of new homes.”

Last month’s Guest Blog is by John Palmer, and illustrates how Neighbourhood Plans can be used to allocate housing, and how Custom Build represents an appealing route into housing, especially if linked to affordable housing provision for local people.

And Neighbourhood Plans offer the ideal mechanism for achieving this, but this needs facilitating to support willing groups to deliver.

Again, for Custom Build it comes down to education. Where people understand the benefits and social equity that Custom Build, and especially community-led housing groups, can deliver, they can see the value, but for too many they’re just not aware of it.

And this can be dangerous for the sector. I recently heard of a custom build site being turned down by local councillors, despite full local authority support, as they simply couldn’t believe that anyone wanting to self build would want to live next to anyone else.

These people represent the an old guard of low-density living that’s just not relevant to our future in terms of housing supply – at least not if we’re to address the scale of the problem.

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