Housing minister Mark Prisk has denied that recent government measures are paving the way for an unsustainable boom and rebutted claims that Westminster has neglected infrastructure in favour of housing.
Speaking to Construction News at a breakfast briefing organised by construction intelligence service Glenigan, Mr Prisk – who previously served as construction minister – denied there was a trade-off between infrastructure and housing in Whitehall policy-making.
“The two go together: housing is a very important part of the construction market as a whole,” said Mr Prisk, who holds responsibilities both for housing and local regeneration.
He added that he “was working quite closely” with commercial secretary Lord Deighton to boost mixed-use commercial and residential sites, through initiatives such as the £475m Local Infrastructure Fund (see box).
“I find it entertaining that in eight months we’ve gone from ‘the housing market’s dead, minister, what are you going to do about it?’ to ‘you’re creating an unsustainable housing boom’”
Mark Prisk, housing minister
And he insisted that recent measures to boost demand – such as the Help to Buy mortgage initiative launched at the Budget – were not creating unsustainable conditions for the housing market.
“I don’t think it’s an unsustainable housing boom,” Mr Prisk said.
“I find it entertaining that I’ve been in the job eight months, and we’ve gone from ‘the housing market’s dead minister, what are you going to do about it?’ to ‘you’re creating an unsustainable housing boom’. The truth is somewhere in the middle.”
Questions have also been raised over recent incentives presented to homebuyers at a time when supply is restricted and many housebuilders are already enjoying healthy margins.
Though he accepted there were “strong representations” from vested interests in housing, the former chartered surveyor denied that the housing lobby held too much sway in Westminster and insisted he was striking a “sensible balance”.
The minister rebutted critics who have claimed that a current glut of work coming to market, caused by funding watersheds set for 2015, was putting strain on the supply chain.
“The government can only plan within its lifetime – what we have tried to do is look where we can create an environment beyond 2015,” he said.
Mr Prisk also hinted that there would be measures to address the ‘cliff-edge’ caused by funding wastersheds in the upcoming spending review, as well as to create “rental certainty for the affordable sector way beyond 2015”.
The affordable rent programme, which currently allows providers to charge social tenants 80 per cent of local market rates, comes to an end in 2015.
Local Infrastructure Fund unlocks fifth site with £32m investment
A £1bn project in Devon has become the fifth to benefit from the £475m Local Infrastructure Fund – designed to unlock unviable housing schemes.
The Sherford Community, being developed by a Red Tree-led consortium, includes 5,500 new homes and 83,000 sq m of employment space on the edge of Plymouth.
Subject to legal agreement, the £32m government investment will be used to start work on the project and fund road and utilities improvement to kick-start work.