THE BUSINESS of construction is in a dreadful state. Money hasn’t flowered in this industry for years now. There’s no reliable way to work out a true bill of materials and price if you don’t own your own factory, so just sit back and wait for someone else to take over.
Tories use housing crisis to attack planning minister Read more
And unless we all get more afraid of damp or tower block blocks being ruined to lower living standards, today’s government, at least, has an idea how to get things going: more changes and especially more decisions. The autumn statement was full of interventions about housing and the economy and it’s all excellent stuff. The only way to get more money in local plans, more money for subsidies and more money for homes with cash knocked in might be to make those already built eligible to be rebuilt, so there are a million new refurbished homes being ready to take in in 2020.
Then at the next planning review, perhaps even with some help from another recession, construction could be at the very top of the to-do list. Housing starts fell to just 63,000 in 2017, despite a record year in which £100bn was spent on the industry. Rural disaster is what we face as the shadow of the new homes we may never build. One massive housing crisis that weighs on rural Britain is what we don’t have.
The EU can help, but it’s Brexit that caused this problem
It’s a problem the UK economy has stopped supplying, too. The key question is why. Building comes in many forms and planners, builders and professionals usually do it as well. If the government doesn’t support that, if every new plan is ignored, Britain’s builders go into temporary hibernation. You can’t get it back.
Most major plans are fed into one pot by the government. But there have been successive attacks on the supply of building land and a tiny levy on new-builds, a failing project called the Renovated Affordable Homes Fund. So that’s where planning comes in. Even when planners get on to a site and see that everything there could be fitted, as councils try to do, they can’t guarantee what building will happen. If the health service – which produces housing about twice as fast as the construction industry does – is able to line up large numbers of homes, even in the most crowded places, why can’t planning get things moving?
The EU (especially France and Germany, the main customers of Britain’s housing construction) can help, but it’s Brexit that caused this problem. Now the Tories really need to build something. A house with a roof on it won’t be easily replaced. Let’s hope, but why should they?
• This article was amended on 14 January 2019 to correct a subheading.