Can the Government Deliver on its Building Promise?

The UK Government has promised it will assist in the building of much needed homes across the country with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne stating in a key note speech “We are the builders”.

And there are signs that they want to do what they say. Not only have they talked a lot about the planning reforms and even carried some out, earlier this month a new Affordable Home Programme was announced that will run from 2016-2021. The latest instalment of the scheme has £4.7 billion on offer for building homes, £4.1 billion of which will be open to bids for shared ownership projects. The remaining £0.6 billion is to be allocated to Rent to Buy and housing for supported and elderly people.

Of course, for a country where there is a housing shortage – crisis some say – this is just the sort of talk and behaviour that is needed. Not only will more housing mean more space for our still growing population, it will also mean more jobs and more money flowing round the economy. So it’s all good. Right?

It would be, if it wasn’t for a recent survey showing on what is actually happening in the UK’s construction sector at the moment. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ construction survey for the first quarter of this year shows that the proportion of builders who say their workload is increasing was lower than in between October and December last year.

The main reason for the slowdown wasn’t a lack of projects in the pipeline, indeed, confidence over future workloads remained upbeat. The three main reasons cited by the survey respondents for the slowdown in growth in work were: financial constraints, lack of skilled workers – specifically bricklayers and quantity surveyors – and planning delays.

“There is an issue around the availability of land on which new houses can be built, and we would like to see more being done to free up private brownfield sites,” said the RICS chief economist Simon Rubinsohn.” He adds: “Our survey tells us that planning delays are one of the biggest barriers to growth in the construction sector. We have recommended that councils work together to create a team of emergency planners.”

The first two issues are things that come up all the time and aren’t limited to just the construction sector. The planning problems, however, are pretty unique to construction and shows that despite promises and Government rhetoric, the planning department still isn’t working as hard as it should to help get things done and projects built.

With funding available and the need for more homes and infrastructure projects to be built, firms remain confident that workloads will rise and that’s good position to be in. However, if we’re to become the “builders” as the Chancellor says, let’s hope that more is done to improve the planning system so building can continue at a much needed faster pace.