Hammond’s housing focus welcome, but can government deliver?

Philip Hammond’s announcements on house building in the Autumn Statement have been welcomed by many within the construction sector as a long overdue commitment to addressing one of the biggest issues facing the UK.

Bill Price, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff property director, said: “Housing remains high on the agenda in terms of both rhetoric and some new measures to back it up. With affordable housing at record lows and a focus on the ‘JAMs’ (just about managing), new funding here is a sensible and much needed policy.

“The concern is that governments are judged solely on the number of houses built. Therefore it is really encouraging to see the chancellor make the direct connection between housing and infrastructure,” said Price. “If underutilised public land or even transport corridors around stations can be used for housing or other development that would align well with the needs of the sector. That’s why announcements on regional rail, roads and even broadband are just as important victories for the property market. Our sector is suffering from a lack of confidence, not cash. This new public sector investment will play a part in kick-starting the levels of property construction we need to see,” Price said.

Ramboll director Tom Shaw said: “We need to do more than simply increase funding, but concentrate on encouraging the industry to innovate and explore methods of building and construction that will enable homes to be built at a lower cost and in shorter periods of time. Methods such as off-site manufacture could revolutionise house-building in the UK, but requires attention and investment to do so.”

Stuart Minchin, divisional manager for water, environment and buildings at recruitment specialists Matchtech, said: “The introduction of a £2.3bn Housing Infrastructure Fund will be a great boost to the UK’s infrastructure. Not only will the 100,000 new homes help address the shortage of housing but it will also create jobs within design and construction.”

Faraz Babar, director of planning and design consultancy Terence O’Rourke, welcomed Philip Hammond’s commitment to local infrastructure. “Much is being made about financial incentives to house builders and home buyers as a means of boosting the new homes market and easing the housing crisis,” he said. “However, the chancellor’s commitment to local infrastructure could arguably be the most important move ahead of the forthcoming Housing White Paper, which may well end up shaping much of his Budget in the spring. 

“One of the biggest challenges that we face when it comes to redeveloping in urban areas is the state of current infrastructure in those towns. The hotly anticipated housing white paper will set out the government’s blueprint for getting homes built across the UK, with a target of one million new homes get to by 2020. Whatever the proposals for that contain, they will need to go hand in hand with today’s plans announced on infrastructure investment. With localism having a growing influence on planning decisions, it is going to be vital to provide reassurances over the delivery of improved local infrastructure at a micro level.

“£1.1 billion is a significant investment, but in order to make sure it is not being wasted, it is going to be important that it is spent in cooperation between local authorities and developers through a clear master plan for the town that will not only solve current issues, but unlock viable development opportunities to deliver the homes that meet each town’s specific needs,” said Babar.

Mat McNab, executive director at Ramboll, said: “We welcome the extra funding for homes in the UK, but questions still remain with regards to timescales and the methods of delivery. If these funds are not spent quickly and effectively then we will not see the pace of change essential to providing the country with the necessary economic and social impact. We have had little clarification so far, and the will only know the practical impact of these funds once we see the forthcoming housing white paper.”

Association for Consultancy and Engineering chief executive, Nelson Ogunshakin, said: “Obviously the extra funds are welcome announcements and a fund to assist in the development of infrastructure that unlocks housing will be useful. We await, however, the much-promised and much-delayed government white paper on housing. Only then will we see the strategy that the government is proposing to fill the housing gap the UK is experiencing.”

Nick Roberts, Atkins’ UK and Europe chief executive officer, said: “I welcome the Autumn Statement recognising the interdependencies between different types of infrastructure. The new £2.3bn fund focusing on the link between housing and local infrastructure will help unlock valuable public land whilst ensuring local communities can cope with growing populations.”

Chris Pike, development director for infrastructure at Arcadis, said: “Overall, recognising the acute housing crisis and the need for investment in a post-Brexit environment to target growth opportunities, we welcome the government’s commitment in the Autumn Statement to both housing and infrastructure. These two priorities must be intrinsically linked to close the productivity gap in the Midlands Engine and the Northern Powerhouse and provide affordable housing to safeguard productivity in London and the South East.”

Justin Arnesen, director at operational and financial performance consultancy Ayming, said that a renewed focus on research and development and innovation was needed in the housing sector. “Investment alone is not enough. The margins in construction are already extremely tight and in order to actually “Get Britain Building”, the government needs to also commit to creating bespoke infrastructure incentives and remove the microscope that currently hangs above the sector in regard to R&D,” he said.

“Rather than looking for reasons to disprove R&D claims from the construction industry, the government should instead proactively look for reasons to approve them. If the government does prioritise R&D and innovation then constructors can make better homes for less money and put the £2.3bn housing infrastructure fund to more use, potentially leading to an even greater amount of homes than the 100,000 targeted,” Arnesen said.

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