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Next government must put housing front and centre

Housing dominated the party conferences this year with each of the three main party leaders giving the issue top billing in their speeches.

The fringe programme was packed with panel discussions and debates on everything from the Right to Buy to homelessness.

The FMB linked up with the Campaign to Protect Rural England at all three conferences to discuss the housing crisis as we see it and whether the new homes should be built on brownfield or greenfield land.

Some may see small local builders and rural campaigners as an unlikely partnership, but we are united in our recognition for new homes and also that there should be greater emphasis placed on smaller, brownfield sites.

Varying aims

In terms of targets, each party has attempted to put a number on what is required, with the Conservatives pledging to deliver an additional 100,000 new homes for young first time buyers, Labour aiming to deliver 200,000 new homes by 2020 and the Lib Dems with a particularly lofty ambition of building 300,000 new homes per year.

The 300,000 homes target is the only one that will meet demand and also start to address the backlog of demand for new homes – but is it achievable?

“The 300,000 homes target is the only one that will meet demand and also start to address the backlog of demand for new homes - but is it achievable?”

Labour, Conservatives and the Lib Dems all have a number of ideas for how to crank up our delivery of new housing but some of the detail around the policies is somewhat lacking.

Let’s also remember that the last time we built more than 200,000 new homes a year was in the late 1980s. It’s hard to imagine we will ever return to that level of housebuilding unless a future government recommits a serious social housing building programme.

New understanding

On a more positive note, I’m pleased to report that each of the three main parties finally understand that housing delivery will not increase to sufficient levels without invigorating the SME housebuilding sector.

The FMB’s lobbying on this issue has started to pay off, with all three parties offering a helping hand to the small local builder.

Labour would introduce the Help to Build scheme to improve access to finance for SME housebuilders.

The Conservatives would continue to incentivise, promote and grow the custom and self-build sector in order to offer more choice to consumers and opportunities to local builders.

“Whichever political party – or parties – form the next government, we want them to hit the ground running and put housing front and centre of their strategy”

The Lib Dems would help social housing providers, including councils, to build more affordable homes to rent, with central government investment and local flexibility within the Housing Revenue Account.

Each of our joint FMB and CPRE fringe events was packed to the rafters with local authority representatives who want to understand how they can reconcile the concerns of their local community with the need for new housing.

The general consensus across the three conferences was that brownfield land should be utilised wherever possible, but if we have any hope of building enough new homes, greenfield land will also need to be used.

We picked up a great deal of intelligence at the party conferences, but we are certainly no closer to accurately predicting the outcome of the May 2015 general election.

Whichever political party – or parties – form the next government, we want them to hit the ground running and put housing front and centre of their strategy and attempt to solve the housing crisis within a generation.

Brian Berry is chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders

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