Paul Carter: We could see a housing recovery – if we give builders the incentives they need

25 Jun

Paul Carter was Leader of Kent County Council from 2005 to 2019. He is a Director of Localis.

If we are going to ‘build, build, build’ – and do it well – then we need to put people and communities at the heart of a new relationship between the Government and the construction industry.

The Government is taking positive steps to get Britain back building again – but much more will be needed to kickstart the industry.

The construction industry alone provides close to two million jobs or seven per cent of the national jobs total. New housebuilding delivered £47 billion of output in 2019 of which 60 per cent was delivered by smaller enterprises employing less than 100 people. Others will be employed in related trades and professions as utilities are connected, community infrastructure such as schools, roads, and hospitals are put in place, and property is maintained and managed. When the Construction Industry is building, the Country is working.

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 and long-lasting impact on the housebuilding industry and saw housing delivery fall dramatically. The worldwide recession post-Covid now presents an even greater challenge accepting that the pent-up demand and need for more new homes will not abate.

To support the Government’s drive for a million new homes by the end of this parliament and to avoid a housebuilding slump, Localis invited leading contributors from all sections of the industry to come forward with ideas and innovation that should help kickstart the post-Covid housebuilding recovery.

Their proposals and suggestions are contained in an essay collection published by Localis this week entitled “Building for renewal: Kickstarting the C19 housing recovery” with the aim of getting the housebuilding industry and the national economy firing again on all cylinders.

Contributions are challenging and insightful on the important role of housing in promoting opportunity and prosperity.

They major on two significant areas: the need for planning reform – and funding both infrastructure and all aspects of housing provision.

The essays and summary recommendations grapple with bringing forward new and innovative ways to fund infrastructure provision, ideally in advance of development. These include the suggestion to raise a new levy on the colossal windfall financial gains of landowners when residential planning is granted on greenfield/agricultural land.

They also include a whole range of incentives to get housebuilders building such as the extension of the Help to Buy scheme, alongside a new raft of incentives to support small builders and considerable support for the Government’s First Homes initiative with a specific focus on key worker housing.

On planning reform, there is support for the return of strong Spatial Planning Regulations to enable planning of essentially-needed infrastructure as a consequence of housing growth over a wider geography than individual Local Plans. There is general support for a reduction in the red tape and bureaucracy in the planning and building regulation process which can add delay to getting diggers on site.

The collection identifies the critical themes for action for national economic recovery led by the construction industry. To achieve this, a strong and effective partnership working will be essential. We need to put people and communities at the heart of this new relationship, working with local government, developers, and other public agencies and with a government which continues to put 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”.