Sajid Javid has hit the ground running since his appointment as secretary of state for communities and local government. He’s vowed to tackle the big housing developers about their perceived inability to deliver new homes – despite there being hundreds of thousands of extant residential planning permissions that are just waiting to get going. It’s the latest act in the war of words between policy-makers and the construction industry.
The unspoken narrative between the two parties sees the government implying that major developers are limiting the supply to artificially inflate prices. At the same time, the House Builders’ Federation (HBF) pleads there’s no land banking taking place and also that there’s no point creating 1,000s more homes if no one wants to buy them.
Mr Javid has even threatened to disrupt the business models of the Big 10 construction companies, who currently erect 80% of all new dwellings in the UK.
The National Custom and Self Build Association’s (NaCSBA) ethos supports the view that people would rather not buy what’s on offer from mainstream companies. The HBF’s figures show that 67% of the UK public would be unlikely to or wouldn't purchase a new volume-built property. They're often seen as small, built to a price and typically located in overcrowded, uninspiring estates.
The demand for small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) developers to re-enter the market to deliver a more desirable product is obvious, as is the need to promote more self and custom build. In some ways, the revival of SMEs is being met by the rise in custom build enablers who are essentially developers interested in delivering what the customer wants.
One of the solutions suggested by the government is what the papers have proclaimed to be the return of the prefab. I can remember the last of the post-war prefabs, which did sterling service well beyond their 10-year design life. I’m pretty sure that if they were ever resurrected they’d be totally unsuitable for modern living. But the tabloids are sensationalizing and what they would deem a prefab is what we'd call an off-site manufactured home.
This modern method delivers high-quality, beautifully-designed properties that can be erected quickly by relatively unskilled labour. In terms of energy efficiency, they’ll outperform any mass-market dwelling built up to 2010 and will last as long as any other type of structure you can construct. It makes me chuckle to think that the media would like to label something as cutting edge as a Huf Haus as a post-war prefab – it’s so inaccurate it's laughable.
I’m heartened by Mr Javid’s intervention and for the continued support for self and custom build from the government. Self build is not, and never will be, a rival to mainstream construction. We present little financial threat to the Big 10 but if we're to get the homes we actually want, then this is the way to go.
Image: David Barbour