JV North Chairman Wayne Gales outlines how housebuilding can be reignited and help the economy to bounce back, provided the sector is given the right ingredients.
“The coronavirus has acutely reminded us of the importance of ‘home’.
While most have found being housebound challenging, we should consider the homeless; those in unsuitable properties; private renters without registered provider security; in dangerous settings; or, trapped in temporary accommodation.
If there are any positives to take from the pandemic, it could be the opportunity to re-evaluate how we do things in the future, including how we speed-up homebuilding to address such situations.
At JV North – a growing consortium of housing association and local authority partners that creates economies of scale when bidding for government homebuilding grant and procuring works – we have long-reaped the benefits of partnership working.
This is going to be more important than ever and while government has provided good support, the severity of the housing shortage means more is needed going forward if we are to make a significant dent in housing waiting lists and help those aspiring to get on the housing ladder.
History shows the sector always rises to the challenge in economic downturns and we will do so again in this crisis.
That is assuming we have all the right ‘ingredients’ and are prepared to really challenge ourselves, be more collaborative and innovative than ever (‘key ingredients’), rather than continuing to just talk about it!
It is therefore essential we now hear the finer detail of the new £12bn, five-year Affordable Homes Programme (a key ingredient), along with the multi-year settlement, what is deemed affordable (more social rent for most people?), tenure types and other obligations we must meet.
We also need to know whether the existing grant regime linked to the 2016/21 SOAHP will be extended as completion dates are being pushed back and the programme ends next March.
These answers are needed now and will give all stakeholders much-needed confidence and certainty.
Through effective construction and development partnerships we can also help restructure an aptly-skilled workforce and supply chain (‘key ingredients’).
Of course, understanding the downturn’s impact on the housing market is vital along with analysing how different tenures will be affected. Flexibility across all stakeholders will be vital and must be built into new ways of working.
With large-scale job losses expected, many people will struggle to own a home and rent affordability will become an increasing challenge for some.
We should prepare now by looking at the flexibility and diversity of our offer and importantly, provide choice to meet people’s needs.
Operationally, it will take time for building sites to reach full capacity again. Additional cost implications are likely as contractors implement new ways of working in line with revised government guidelines.
We need to appreciate this, work together to share risk, keep people safe and do our bit to support the financial sustainability of our partners and their supply chains.
After all, they are also a ‘key ingredient’ something which is occasionally lost on some.
How we collectively manage these negotiations will be crucial; give-and-take will be needed from all.
Local authorities have been encouraged by government to mobilise now so the planning (key ingredient) and development process can continue once restrictions ease. Only time will tell if this is happening quickly enough or at all in some parts of the country.
As well as the challenges presented, there will be opportunities to take on distressed, challenging projects that are part complete, possibly available through housebuilders or by engaging with private developers looking to sell discounted properties to support liquidity challenges.
This could offer a quick and cost-effective route to increasing much-needed affordable homes in some parts of the country.
This is also a perfect time to create the homebuilding marketplace we want rather than enduring age-old frustrations. Modular housing (key ingredient) is a prime example – the sector knows the benefits and obstacles.
We have the required pipeline to build factory homes en masse and with some financial help from government, together we can make huge inroads into addressing the housing crisis through this approach.
Change rarely happens in isolation so an integrated approach featuring landlords, government, local authorities, contractors, developers and consultants is needed.
JV North is sharing an unprecedented amount of market intelligence and data with all its stakeholders.
The consortium’s work with another key partner, Homes England, to finalise our recovery plan is also going to be crucial.
We are in the midst of an unwanted and unprecedented period of uncertainty, but with this challenge has come an opportunity to pause, recover, re-evaluate and reignite housebuilding with the all the right ingredients.
It will however require everyone involved to think differently and give-and-take a little for the common good.”