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Seismic changes are needed if any of the top political parties' housing targets in the UK are to be met in the short or long term, it is claimed. Planning permissions, regulatory requirements, funding, the economy and lack of skills have all added to the current housing shortage, according to Rosemary Edwards, partner and head of residential development with corporate solicitors Shulmans LLP, who has acted for many of the UK's top house builders for over two decades. ‘I have heard of many major house builders being accused of land banking but this is patently ridiculous. A house builder's business is entirely based on selling homes. If they can build them and sell them, why would they hold back?’ she said. In reality a house builder will struggle to sell more than say 40 houses a year on any one site, so natural market forces mean that a scheme of 200 houses may take five years to build out. Increased planning and regulatory hurdles have added time and cost, such as the new Community Infrastructure Levy, now effective in some districts, including Leeds. Staff shortages in local authority planning departments can also add to delays,’ she explained. She also pointed out that there is also the problem of mortgage finance. ‘We may say that we need 200,000 new houses or more each year, but not everyone who wants a house can afford one and mortgage eligibility criteria have tightened up considerably in recent years,’ added Edwards. According to Tim Halstead, Shulmans' managing partner and a nationally acknowledged authority on house building, while there's a great deal of talk about building on brownfield sites, doing so throws up as many problems as it supposedly solves. ‘Such sites often have several land owners, so you have to bring them all together or persuade the local authority to exercise compulsory purchase powers. That all takes time and of course you have to build houses, where people want to live which may not be on a former industrial site,’ he said. ‘There is often the added complication of expensive clean-up of contamination or increased costs arising say from digging out old foundations. Those costs can make schemes unviable without subsidy. As long ago as the 1980s we worked on a site in Hull that got a central government grant of £20 million but there just isn't that kind of money around right now,’ he added. Halstead also pointed to a chronic UK skills shortage being another factor in the low numbers of new houses being built. ‘Many skilled construction workers left the industry during the recession. You can't just click your fingers and bring in an endless supply of tradesmen to get new houses built,’ he explained. ‘House builders are now competing, more so than ever before, to recruit skilled labour and to maintain relationships with quality contractors and suppliers. That drives up costs and can cause delays,’ he added. Recent proposals include encouraging small and medium… Continue reading →
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