Housing Sector: The more things change, the more they stay the same

The article below originally appeared in the October edition of Housebuilder magazine.

The head of Newgate Communications’ South West and Wales office Ben Lowndes asks whether the industry’s latest ‘innovative’ answers address the right questions.

At every level within the housing sector, it seems there are calls to do things differently.

The government says the housing market is ‘broken’. Former Housing Minister Gavin Barwell acknowledged at the time of his Housing White Paper that different approaches and new entrants to the market are needed to help the Government achieve its housing ambitions.

Locally, councils are looking at new ways to invest, use their assets and directly deliver homes as the extent of housing need in their areas becomes more pressing.

And hardly a week goes by without a new method of delivery, joint venture, or funding approach being announced.

As I write this piece, the government has announced the UK’s first ‘plot shop’ in Bicester, which sells pieces of land on the Graven Hill development site to would-be self-builders. This is highlighted as a great example of how we need to ‘get creative’ on a national scale.

Custom Build has proved successful in parts of the country like Cornwall and Bristol, where there are some well-established schemes. The government sees Custom Build and areas like modular construction as opportunities to spark an upturn in housebuilding activity. Although there is evidence that these ‘new’ areas are expanding, there needs to be a huge spike in activity for them to make a marked a difference nationally.

Focus on the fundamentals

Which brings me back to the understandable desire to innovate and what is really understood by this.

Where is the evidence of ‘thinking differently’, for example, around the Green Belt which constrains delivery around many of our towns and cities?

How can a system that’s characterised by conflict and complexity be made to be more collaborative, to enable more people to genuinely understand the need for housing in their areas?

How can the industry meet a growing skills challenge, which could be exacerbated by changes to freedom of movement legislation which many say underpin its success?

And how do we provide a consistent, simplified and – dare I say it – joined-up approach that many end users are crying out for?

I expect I’ll see many more announcements for a few years yet before these important questions are answered. Until they are, we face a situation where the more things change, the more they actually stay the same.


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