Housing minister: White paper will ‘shake up’ sector

Under government plans to “shake up” the sector, Gavin Barwell said he wanted companies from abroad to play a part in increasing the rate of housebuilding in the UK.

Mr Barwell was speaking after the long-awaited housing white paper, Fixing our broken housing market, was released.

He said: “We’re keen to bring in small and medium-sized players and there may be major players who are not active in the UK but build in other countries who might want to be involved

“The more people who are involved in building more homes, the happier I am going to be.”

The 104-page white paper, which outlines the government’s strategy for tackling the housing shortage, said offsite construction could cut residential building programmes by almost a third, as well as slashing costs by a quarter.

It added that PRS schemes were ripe for speedy modern construction methods.

The white paper said the £1.7bn Accelerated Construction programme outlined in last year’s Autumn Statement would be used to “diversify” the residential construction market.

The programme will create up to 15,000 housing starts on public land this parliament, supporting offsite manufacturing techniques and aiming to increase the number of participants in the sector.

“The government will partner directly with innovative private sector partners,” the white paper stated.

“Through sharing risk and reward, we will lower developer risk, help overcome issues with access to finance and build out sites up to twice the rate a large developer might.

“We will also support the development of modern methods of construction, generating the confidence for the private sector to invest in new capacity.”

Mr Barwell said one contractor had already been selected for a project through the Accelerated Construction initiative.

The government also used the white paper to outline its ambition to create more PRS construction across the UK.

The paper said: “These developments tend to be built out more quickly, adopt modern methods of construction and help regenerate local economies by attracting a skilled labour force.”

Keepmoat chief executive Dave Sheridan told Construction News that the shift in focus could result in more developers taking an interest in PRS.

“It will be a trade-off between more delivery for a slightly smaller profit,” he said.

Asked about modular construction, a spokesman from the Home Builders Federation said: “The industry is keen to embrace all new technologies to allow it to deliver more high-quality homes.

“There is already a significant amount of work going on in this area and the industry is keen to work with the government and other stakeholders on progressing this further.”

Ramboll director of buildings Tom Shaw said the development of offsite technology could boost the popularity of PRS with developers.

“PRS is all about getting practical completions as early as possible so you can get your tenants in,” he said. “Any savings that can be made in programme is a huge benefit for that sector.”

Andrew Richards, managing director of Laing O’Rourke’s residential arm Explore Living, said Laing O’Rourke was planning an advanced manufacturing facility to deliver up to 10,000 homes a year.

“Traditional methods of construction can no longer deliver the modern housing the UK needs,” he said. “Our industry must radically transform.”

Other plans in the white paper included providing more financial support to SME housebuilders and speeding up housebuilding through planning changes.

These include giving local authorities powers to increase planning fees by 20 per cent as long as this extra money is spent on resourcing council planning departments.

The Federation of Master Builders said it supported this move in principle, saying it could lead to smaller firms delivering more homes.

Mark Farmer, chief executive of consultancy Cast – and author of last year’s government-commissioned Modernise or Die industry review – welcomed the white paper.

“There is a welcome recognition of the challenge of transforming skills development and training as well as strong support for modern, more efficient construction techniques,” he said.

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