Cameron's home-owning dream in spotlight as house building stalls

 
building housing

It was the centre-piece of his conference speech.

"When a generation of hard-working men and women in their 20s and 30s are waking up each morning in their childhood bedrooms - that should be a wake-up call for us," David Cameron said before an audience of the party faithful in Manchester earlier this month.

The Prime Minister said he wanted a "national crusade to get homes built".

The first set of significant house building figures since then have just been published.

They are from the National House Building Council - which provides building certificates for new homes.

And they make for pretty gloomy reading.

Drop

Overall, registrations for new homes fell by 2% in the last three months compared with the same period last year.

That figure masks what many see as a more worrying trend.

In the private sector, new building registrations fell by 1%.

While in the public sector - that's largely homes built by housing associations which tend to be more often in the "affordable" category - the number was down a more precipitate 4%.

This morning, one housing association chief executive told The Times newspaper that it would certainly be cutting the number of affordable homes it planned to build this year.

Neil Hadden, of Genesis Housing Association, one of the largest in the UK, said that he was "looking carefully at priorities for spending".

The reason? Uncertainty over how new Right to Buy plans will affect housing associations (the government wants to allow tenants to buy their homes at a discount and cuts to housing benefit which has meant income for many associations has fallen or is at risk.

'Lumpy'

Now, the NHBC says it is not time to panic. After a robust first six months of the year, it is still predicting that overall new house building - when the full figures for 2015 are collated - will be up.

And it cautions that new build registrations can be "lumpy" - that is, quarter on quarter comparisons can be subject to a degree of volatility.

"We're comparing against what was a very strong quarter in 2014," Mike Quinton, the chief executive of the NHBC, told me.

"It's easy to forget the depths of the recession five or six years ago when the industry was only building 80,000 to 100,000 homes a year. We're now at about twice that rate so we've come a long way."

Priced-out

And there is still a long way to go if we are ever going to meet the target set by organisations such as Shelter that England alone should be building 250,000 new homes a year to meet the demand of those priced out of the present under-supplied market.

It could be a decade, Mr Quinton admits.

In 2007, before the financial crisis led to a sharp downturn in building, around 50,000 new houses were registered to be built every three months.

That figure has now fallen to 36,000 and the full year number is likely to be around 160,000.

The latest figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government released in August said that house building "starts" (that's actually building houses rather than registering a plan to do so) were down 14% compared to the previous three months and down 6% compared to the same period a year earlier.

And that comes against a background of generally poor construction figures as the sector becomes concerned about economic head winds.

It may not be time to roll out the tumbrils for UK house building.

But the latest figures could be making things a little twitchy for a Prime Minister who has made affordable housing one of the key priorities for this Parliament.

 

More on This Story

More from Kamal

Features