It is no secret that the UK is facing a massive housing shortage.
The recent North West Future of Housing conference, hosted by The insider, provided the perfect opportunity to discuss future housing provision in our region.
With a major strategic plan in place for the North West, there is plenty of good news around housing, particularly in the cities, but new homes are still coming on line too slowly. Over the last 10 years the region has only achieved 74% of the target for housebuilding. To improve on this we should surely be working to bring existing and unused properties back into use instead of only placing the emphasis on new build.
Manchester and Liverpool have really come forward with development and regenerated areas such as the Northern Quarter in Manchester, which used to be really run down, are now very popular. Rochdale is seeing the fastest pace of housing delivery in Greater Manchester – which is badly needed to help keep local skilled and professional people in the area rather than losing them to Manchester where the standard of living has historically been higher. Family build to rent is now coming on line in a big way with PRS provider Sigma Capital Group making this a key part of their offer in the North West.
In Bolton and Warrington modular construction is bringing new homes on to the market fast – some have been erected within 8 weeks – but there aren’t enough of them. Feeding into this is the government’s drive to encourage the manufacture of components in factories using the latest digital technology before being sent for assembly on construction sites. The Government has committed to increasing use of these methods in publicly-funded projects. If this is successful it will no doubt be taken up by the wider property market. So could modular be the solution we’re all looking for? Maybe. The main problem with modular building is that developers have to fund up to 60% of the upfront costs as opposed to obtaining finance, so the challenge around developer equity makes bringing multiple sites forward difficult. Some clever solutions will be needed here if modular is going to be the future.
Land supply also remains an issue. There is build to rent family housing now being produced on local authority land and slowly but surely more greenbelt land is being released for development. However, developers won’t risk putting in a plan for a development on greenbelt land for risk of rejection. When conditions are set with planning they can move forward with the framework much faster. There also needs to be a greater availability of land choice and flexibility around local authority-owned and private land
And what about green construction? We were all told last month that we only have 12 years to save the planet, so it seems wrong that, currently, there are no regulations in place to ensure our homes are built to be environmentally friendly. This could be an opportunity for build –to-rent developers, but first they would need to find out whether people are willing to pay more rent for a home with lower utility bills as a result of greener buildings. There has to be a commercial advantage – or clear regulation – to make this happen.
The verdict from the conference was ‘could do better’ but there is certainly the will among housing providers and property specialists to tackle the problems that are holding the North West back. We need to be clear on what we are trying to achieve with future housing. The public and private sectors must then work together to make it happen.