Housing Minister welcomes brownfield site development, saying there is potential for 'a million' new homes
Speaking at an event hosted by Conservative Home in association with the FMB, CPRE the Countryside Charity, and the National Housing Federation, Esther McVey made it clear she saw industry innovations as key to reaching Government's new homes pledge.
The Housing Minister, Esther McVey, has said the UK needs to seize the opportunities offered by modern methods of construction to drive up house building.
“A woman doesn’t necessarily come into politics to do housework, but here I am,” the Minister quipped, as she joined industry leaders for a panel discussion at the annual Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.
The Government has set itself a bold target to achieve 300,000 new homes per year by the mid-2020s. Speaking at the event which was hosted by Conservative Home in association with the FMB, CPRE the Countryside Charity, and the National Housing Federation, McVey made it clear she saw industry innovations as key to reaching this pledge.
“We are seeing a home building revolution,” McVey observed.
“Yes, we have traditional build. But surely, in the 21st century, we have to make sure our homes can industrialise,” she argued.
The Minister, who attends Cabinet, added that there were “quicker ways of building off-site.”
“We can have modern methods of construction, we can have modular builds. That can address some of these housing issues and concerns.”
McVey admitted the Government would need help from industry to fix the housing crisis.
“We want to see innovative ideas,” she said.
“Government will do as much as it possibly can, but equally everybody has got to come forward with solutions themselves.”
When it comes to housing “the ambition of the Government is big,” McVey sought to emphasise.
The view of industry
McVey was joined on the panel by Brian Berry, CEO of the FMB, the largest trade association in the construction industry.
On what was driving the housing crisis, Berry was frank: “the simple answer is we are not building enough homes. We are still failing to meet the Government’s target of 300,000 new homes a year.”
“There is a housing crisis, which is disappointing given the number of years we have been talking about this” Berry stated.
Berry set out the scale of the housing crisis, pointing to "alarming" statistics.
“8.4 million people in England are living in unaffordable, insecure or unsuitable housing.”
He pointed out that the housing crisis was coupled with the decline in the local house builder.
“In the late 1980s 2/3 of all new homes were built by small or medium sized housebuilders, last year that had dropped to 23 per cent.”
On the opportunities afforded by the Government’s commitment to net zero carbon emissions by in 2050, Berry called for a national retro-fit strategy to upgrade homes.
Berry also homed in on improving access to land, speeding up the planning process and access to finance as key areas for improvement.
On the skills crisis, Berry argued that the construction industry needed to be able to bring in workers from outside the UK.
Berry was also clear on the need for a new licensing scheme.
“Did you know that anyone can be a builder in this country?” he asked.
“We should introduce licensing to improve the standards in our industry.”
Planning and Development
Reflecting on infrastructure, McVey recognised communities wanted to see more investment in their local areas.
“Infrastructure isn’t just roads and sewage systems, it is also schools and GPs and local hospitals. All of that needs to go in before these homes come on in such a scale.”
McVey defended the green belt, saying it served an important purpose.
On brownfield development she was concise: “I don’t dispute we have a lot more to do.”
“People do want brownfield sites looked at and developed first. There are a million potential homes that could be done there. I think we have to make sure that we re-generate areas before we go into anywhere else, and that would be a priority.”
On planning, the Minister said her Department was looking into the planning process.
“Where are those niggles? Where are those difficulties?”
“Have we got all the resources we need in the planning department?”
“Yes, that is something we are looking at. Can we bring in an A-team to bring in that bandwidth to the local authorities if they haven’t got that?”
The Minister accepted different housing was needed to meet people’s different needs.
“We recognise we need all types of homes for all types of people,” McVey acknowledged.
“Whether that is council homes or social homes or private or rented or home ownership.”