Labour will muster an “army” of small builders to deliver more homes

A future Labour government would take steps to increase competition in the housebuilding industry by opening up the market to smaller construction firms, shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds has told the NHBC.

In her first keynote speech of the year, delivered at the NHBC’s London HQ, Reynolds said that Britain needed a long-term housing strategy, conceding that all political parties had failed on the issue for 30 years, but she castigated the Government’s record on housing.

“It is clear that the Government is in denial both about the scale of the housing crisis and its own failure to tackle it,” she said. “But the truth is over the past thirty years Governments of both parties haven’t done enough to build the homes our country so desperately needs. Too often short-term decisions have been put before the long-term decisions needed to ensure this generation and the next can afford their own home.

“If we want to meet the housing challenge that confronts us we need to plan for the long-term. And we must face the fundamental problem that there are simply not enough homes for people to buy and rent affordably. We need a Government that will plan for the long-term and develop a housing strategy that has building more homes at its heart.”

Reynolds announced the so-called Build First proposal, a package of measures to muster an “army” of smaller firms and custom builders – giving a shot in the arm to self-build – that would, she claimed, tackle the housing shortage and help the next generation onto the housing market.

“Our aim is to significantly boost the role of the smaller firms, and the self and custom build industry to help us reach our ambition of building at least 200,000 a homes a year by 2020,” she said. “Building those extra homes could bring up to 230,000 jobs to our construction industry and I want to see many of those jobs created by small and medium sized builders.”

She also promised improved access to land, with a requirement that local authorities make provision for smaller sites, as well as guarantees of access to public land for smaller firms and custom-builders.

Andy Frankish, Mortgage Advice Bureau’s (MAB) new homes director, welcomed the call for greater competition, albeit it with a caveat. “We fully applaud the sentiment behind today’s announcement, although we must also remember that housebuilders have been forced to reduce the number of units they build until now because of the shortage of mortgages available. Help to Buy has made a significant difference to the outlook for UK developers and we are now seeing them step up production in response,” he said.

“There is undoubtedly a need for more competition, more regional activity and more choices for the customer. Working closely with local authorities and smaller developers on projects like custom build can deliver a big boost for UK housebuilding. The scene is dominated by larger developers but there is only so much they can do in terms of increasing production. An influx of smaller developers could have a big impact on the number of new homes starts recorded each year.”

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