James Thomson, CEO of Keepmoat Homes, discusses the urgent need for consistency of policy to support the UK housing market.
Aunified approach to housing policy is essential if we are to continue to see an increase in housebuilding in line with the Government’s targets. For a partnership housebuilder, like Keepmoat Homes, working with local authorities, housing associations and other public sector landowners, it is encouraging to see that there is now a much greater consistency of approach to growing housing supply, regardless of political persuasion.
Keepmoat Homes is a partnership homebuilder and we don’t purchase land on a speculative basis, but it is important that we have confidence and clarity on policy over a three to five year period to allow us to plan and make investment decisions. At a local level we find a commercial, innovative and supportive approach from a wide range of local authorities. For example, Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council undertook a fundamental review of its Planning Service to look at the way it dealt with planning applications, with the aim of granting good development quickly without unnecessary cost or delay. It is this kind of thinking and approach, driven by strong leadership committed to new quality housing that is needed to ensure the planning process meets the needs of the housing industry.
Most large scale projects are delivered in phases over a period of several years so for this reason we welcome a high level of cross-party consensus on key issues currently facing the industry. But, we still need even greater certainty. Of course we expect any opposition to challenge and innovate – and we expect Government to respond to market changes. But it would be helpful to have certainty looking five years ahead, or longer, on areas including support for first time buyers, such as Help to Buy or shared ownership, mixed tenure developments and the introduction of incentives to use modern methods of construction (MMC).
With regard to Help to Buy, it is extremely positive that both of the major political parties are looking at extending the scheme beyond 2021, but we would support reforms that are put in place to ensure help is received by those who need it most. Introducing measures such as income testing should be expected as should reducing the current 20 per cent Government lending to 15 per cent or less over time. This could potentially help more buyers with the same pot and shouldn’t have a major impact on the scheme if it is introduced in the right way, given the significant availability of mortgage products in the market currently.
There is also now a growing national consensus on some approaches needed to get more homes built with greater speed, most particularly on the need for infra- structure, including utilities, skills and on the use of MMC. The Government is right to endorse modular construction as a means of delivering additional homes to provide additional capacity over and above what the industry can currently build through traditional construction methods. MMC also offers benefits such as more energy efficient buildings that are cheaper to run and can assist with fuel poverty. To create additionality and increase capacity we need this sector to grow quickly and sustainably, at the same time modernising the skills of the construction workforce and generating economic growth through a native high-tech industry.
Keepmoat Homes has invested substantially in modular construction through ilke Homes, which was launched in May 2017 as a joint venture with modular construction specialist Elliott and is now established as a strong independent business with a factory capable of producing 2000 quality new homes across a wide range of house types. ilke Homes is not exclusive to Keepmoat Homes as we saw the need for the whole market to have access to this solution. MMC is now at a point where government policy and support should be used to stimulate wider adoption to increase momentum significantly and capitalise on the benefits it can bring to the industry.
However, housing delivery doesn’t rely entirely on politicians. The industry also needs to make its own commitment to training, investing in technology and building its supply chain. At Keepmoat Homes we actively manage a high-quality supply base that shares our values and is fully aligned to supporting our growing business. We are also supporting many of our procurement objectives by moving to digital construction and other advanced construction techniques, both of which are also vital to improving quality across our range and across all of our regional businesses.
A fourth industrial revolution is also putting artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality and a host of new materials at the service of the construction industry. The speed of change is unprecedented and the industry must be open to opportunities and willing to challenge traditions to find new solutions that complement our current ways of working as well as meeting demands for speed, efficiency, productivity, certainty and quality.