Unblocking infrastructure for housing

The Housing & Finance Institute has launched a pilot project in the south east of England aimed at identifying and solving common problems in the supply of utility infrastructure connections to support new housing developments. This follows work by HFI on housing supply for HM Treasury in 2015/16 which found utilities, particularly water companies, were failing to provide new connections quickly enough.

A report by HFI published in March last year, named and shamed a number of water companies for missing new connection targets, while also calling for regulatory reform for electricity and water supply for housing, plus new powers for local authorities to force developers to increase build-rates on strategic sites.

The HFI's new project – the Infrastructure Dependencies Mapping Scheme – has been launched in partnership with the public and private sector developer Keepmoat, Laing O’Rourke, Anglian Water and Kent and Essex County Councils, as well as the Homebuilders Federation, the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The project will focus on developments that have been held up by delays to supply of water, sewerage, electricity or road connections. The chief executive of the HFI, Natalie Elphicke, told Inside Housing: “When we speak to housing developers, they often say it is water, electricity, gas, broadband and roads which are impeding their ability to build more homes faster.

“Our hope is that this new pilot scheme, which brings together key players from the private and public sectors, will provide us with a blueprint for fixing these issues and facilitating accelerated housing growth.”

Planning law expert Matthew Fox of Pinsent Masons, said the pilot scheme "could potentially be very good news for developers, who will be used to the frustration of the severe delays to delivery of developments that utilities and infrastructure commonly introduce".

"It is noted that this pilot has the support of the government and it is hoped that the lessons learned will be turned into legislative or policy action from government to ensure that the blueprint can be copied elsewhere," Fox said.

"For a government keen to burnish its housing delivery credentials, this pilot could lead to practical solutions – rather than the 'facilitative' funding that has been common to many of the other announcements made this month," he added.

The pilot scheme is expected to run until May 2017 with an initial report due at the end of this month, to be presented to the All-Party Parliamentary Group and Housing Minister Gavin Barwell.