Will the Government Build 300,000 New Homes A Year?

New homes

Surveyors Brand Government Plans Impractical

The government has ambitious house building targets for 2018. But only one in eight chartered surveyors thinks they will be met.

In last November’s budget, Philip Hammond outlined government plans to build 300,000 new homes a year in England to stem the growing housing crisis, and particularly to open up more opportunities for first time buyers and those needing affordable housing. While we are seeing many plans for new housing developments in towns across Essex, there is a real concern that these targets won’t be met.

Yet the professionals who carry out measured building surveys are less than convinced that the government will be able to deliver on its promises. A survey carried out by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) found that just 12 percent believed the target would be met and the remaining 88 percent were unsure or lacked confidence in the government’s commitment.

Lacking in substance

Lewis Johnston is the Parliamentary Affairs Manager for RICS, and told reporters that it will take more than ambitious policies in the autumn budget to solve the current housing shortfall. He said that “more radical action” is needed.

He described the chancellor’s November statement as amounting to a “smorgasbord of policies” that would be insufficient to bring about the step-change needed for such a substantial increase in construction.

Doubling the new builds

To put Mr Hammond’s goals into perspective, it is worth examining some building statistics over recent years. In the year to September 2017, just over 166,000 new homes were constructed. This is little more than half of the target going forward, although it is more than twice the number built in the worst-hit recession year of 2008-09, when there were only 80,000 new builds.

But of course, we have all heard the phrase lies, damned lies and statistics – it all depends what you choose to count. The government’s official data shows more than 217,000 new dwellings in the year to 2017. It is still significantly below the target of 300,000, but is at least in the same ballpark. So why the difference, and which numbers can we believe?

The key is in the subtle difference in wording. “New dwellings” includes existing constructions that have been converted or modified.  So former commercial premises and houses that have been converted to flats will be included in these figures. “New builds” on the other hand, means just that.

Cash, land and labour in short supply

Whichever numbers you choose to look at, the underlying message remains the same. Something significant needs to change in order to step up to the target of 300,000 per year, and those in the know see no signs of the necessary action taking place.

Mr Johnstone pointed out that three fundamental things are needed in order to build homes: Land on which to build them, skilled workers to construct them and money to pay for it all. All three ingredients are in short supply.

He said: “In addition to the partial lifting of the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap, councils should also be given the tools they need to build, including more access to funding and a pipeline of suitable land.” RICS also pointed out that as Brexit looms closer, there is a real risk of a worsening skills shortage in the construction sector.

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