The Housing White Paper sets out policies to help build more homes, of the right type and in the right locations. Using timber and offsite construction could help seize the opportunities presented by the government's new agenda.
After multiple delays, the Government's Housing White Paper – Fixing our broken housing market – was published on 7 February.
The White Paper set out the policies that the Government believes will help more homes to be built, of the right type and in the right locations.
It also launched a consultation on various changes to planning policy and legislation on housing, plus a couple of clarifications on sustainable development and the environment in England. The deadline for responses is 2 May.
Here is our take on four key issues of interest for timber in construction. We welcome your views and feedback.
Speeding up the building of homes
It is thought that a third of homes granted planning permission between 2010/11 and 2015/16 have yet to be built.
So one part of the Government's consultation is looking at ways to encourage faster implementation of planning permissions and greater visibility of housebuilders' build out rates. "We're giving councils and developers the tools they need to build more swiftly", said the PM.
In fact, it could result in quite a clampdown on developers who sit on planning permissions. Housebuilders argue that it's not always easy or viable to start on site, but there is no doubt that the pace of delivery of new homes is going to become a strategic issue for many builders and their planning authorities.
Councils will be able to issue more completion notices requiring building to start within two years of the planning permission rather than three, and builders will be required to demonstrate "greater transparency" about the pace of developments.
Councils are going to be expected to use land more efficiently by encouraging taller and higher density developments. The Accelerated Construction Programme is also designed to help councils bring in new contractors who can build homes more quickly than traditional builders using new and innovative methods of construction.
Opportunity: Wood is nature’s most versatile building material. It lends itself to offsite construction methods, which can speed up average build times by a third compared with other materials. Engineering excellence is also leading to much greater use of timber for taller structures than has been possible in the past – we can now construct 14+ storey-buildings using engineered and hybrid timber products. Find out more here.
Encouraging investment in affordable quality homes
In a major change of tune from the Government, gone is the single-minded focus on home ownership, replaced with a more pragmatic acceptance of a wider range of options. "We will encourage housing associations and local authorities to build more, and we will work to attract new investors into residential development including homes for rent", stated the PM.
However, many housing associations currently undertake little or no development. The Government hopes that, by giving them greater clarity over future rent levels from 2020, they will have the confidence to invest and to borrow against future income. The thought is that housing associations could be achieving 40-50% of all new build completions across the country by 2020, so there is definitely a warmer feeling towards the social housing sector than there has been for some years.
In reality though, many commentators have pointed out that the call for more housing supply is not being backed by more grant, so the likely upshot for housing associations is more risk.
The Government is urging the sector to explore every opportunity to improve efficiency. The Homes and Communities Agency will be relaunched this summer as Homes England with a clear focus on boosting housing delivery and "making a home within reach for everyone".
Opportunity: Proven and predictable methods of offsite construction such as timber frame and CLT can help to reduce risk for housing associations and can enable rental income to be generated more rapidly. The social housing sector is also an important one for many joinery products such as timber windows, stairs and doors which deliver safe, beautiful and high quality interiors at affordable cost. Find out more here.
Support for SMEs and custom build
The Government continues to lose patience with volume housebuilders who simply will not risk their profitable business model or boost productivity to build any faster than they want to or feel they can manage in current conditions.
Thus the £3 billion Home Building Fund launched in October 2016 is designed to help smaller builders, and now the White Paper makes it clear that custom and self build is also an important part of the Government’s strategy to solve the housing crisis.
Specific commitments to support this sector included measures to increase access to land and funding, and promoting the Right to Build portal from the National Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA) so that anyone wanting to build their own home can easily find the local authority register in their area.
This will be backed up by the introduction of legislation to ensure local authorities meet their new Right to Build requirements to assess demand for custom and self build in their area and grant permission for enough plots to meet local demand. Smaller ‘windfall’ sites will be brought forward outside of the local plan for housebuilding, in particular for custom and self build homes.
Opportunity: Wood has long been the material of choice for many customers in the self and custom build market. We can use wood structurally and for many internal and external features to create spectacular buildings that save energy, time and material, and deliver on low carbon targets. Find out more here.
Confirming the importance of good design and sustainability
73% of people say they would support the building of more homes if well designed. So expect to see much more use of design codes and community engagement to ensure new homes meet residents' needs inside and out, and respect the character of the local area. Communities will get a stronger voice in the design of new housing to drive up the quality and character of new development, building on the success of neighbourhood planning.
Similarly, local authorities are already expected to take a positive approach to addressing climate change impacts on their communities and infrastructure. But the Government is now proposing to make it much clearer that local planning policies should support measures for the future resilience of communities and infrastructure to climate change.
Opportunity: Now is the time for wood's outstanding environmental credentials and its positive impact on people's health and wellbeing to be recognised in all parts of the housing market. Building with timber means taking CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in the built environment. Wood's calming qualities make people feel better in the built environment as much as in the outdoors. Find out more here.