As a local government leader and senior councillor for many years and with a lifelong career as a housebuilder, I have experienced at first hand significant economic recessions: the stockmarket collapse of 1987; the 9/11 tragedy of 2001 and the banking crisis of 2008
All had an immediate impact on the housebuilding industry and saw delivery numbers fall dramatically. We are now undoubtedly facing a worldwide recession post-COVID of greater severity than anything previously experienced. However, the pent-up demand and need for more new homes to be built will not abate.
As an industrial sector in its own right, construction provides close to two million jobs or 7% of the national jobs total. With an output multiplier of 2.049, the third highest of any sector in the UK economy, every £1 invested in the industry generates over £2 in the wider economy.
New housebuilding delivered £47bn of output in 2019 of which 60% was delivered by smaller enterprises employing less than 100 people. When the construction industry is building, the country is working.
If we can kick-start housing, the country can get motoring again.
So, in response to this situation, Localis has commissioned a report seeking answers as to what could be done to build more homes, keep and grow the two million people employed and get the housebuilding industry back to work, and get national housebuilding targets back on track.
We invited leading contributors from all sections of the housebuilding industry to address this with readily practical and immediately innovative approaches to kick-start a stalled housing agenda.
The proposals and suggestions are contained in an essay collection entitled Building for renewal: Kick-starting the C19 housing recovery. It encompasses how housing policy and the planning system could be directed to promoting opportunity and prosperity, building sustainable communities as well as supporting lives and engaging with society during the recovery.
Contributions for promoting opportunity and prosperity include suggestions for investment in a new generation of social housing and bringing forward council housebuilding investment programmes; provision of key worker housing; risk-sharing and flexibility of tenures and levelling up housing through wider access to the new Single Housing Infrastructure Fund.
Calls for better place-led investment include arguments for protecting social investment, new partnership models for investment and extending Homes England’s role as a housing accelerator with new powers over surplus public sector land and support of spatial plan delivery.
We have to protect our small and medium-size enterprises’ builders and supply chains, and fast-tracking the role of garden settlements offers a great way of achieving this end.
We must find new forms of funding to inject liquidity into the housing market and the use of self-invested personal pensions and pension fund investment offer opportunities to do this.
Recent events have shown that we also are at a social crossroads. How we support the most vulnerable among us, address the needs of an ageing population and engage better with society to embed clean growth and social value must also be put centre stage.
The planning system remains at the heart of creating successful and sustainable futures and in response to COVID-19 there is a strong case for extending planning permissions for a further 12 months and making build-out a prerequisite of Government funding or planning permissions.
Granting short-term planning freedoms – including an extension of permitted development rights – must be seen as part of a programme to deliver long-term housing growth.
And, with a view to levelling up, spatial plans must be developed by infrastructure authorities to support ‘good growth’ and as a prerequisite for additional Government funding.
Our collection has identified the critical themes for action for a recovery led by housebuilding. Some may be addressed through short-term interventions, others require systematic change.
What is abundantly clear is that we must endeavour to maintain and grow housing delivery in the coming years.
To achieve this, strong and effective partnership working will be essential. We need to put communities at the heart of this new relationship, working with local government, developers and other public agencies and with a Government which puts housing high in its order of priorities.
Above all, we must invest the funding necessary to avoid a housing recession and recognise – as put so clearly in one essay – that ‘the fundamental basis of a healthy and successful life is a safer and secure home’.
Cllr Paul Carter CBE is chair of the Localis C19 Housebuilding Commission