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Guest blog: How to break free from the ‘housebuilding pool of stagnation’?

Originally published in Society Matters magazine, winter 2017 edition

Reduced emissions, a safer working environment, less wastage and speedier build times. Sound too good to be true? You might think that if this option for house building was available we would grab it and run with it.

P8-Graham-Simpson.JPGHowever, despite this being a currently viable option, to build en masse at faster delivery times, here in Scotland we are sitting in a housebuilding pool of stagnation.

I have visited off-site housebuilders in Scotland, and the common rhetoric is that there is no ‘top-down’ support for this innovative industry, little consumer knowledge of it and a skills gap which is near a cliff edge.

We have facilities to build off-site but they are operating at under half capacity because there is not enough demand, whilst house building across Scotland sits at a tiny 16,000 homes per year – a far cry from the Scottish Government’s target to build 35,000 homes per year.

Yet this target would be much easier to achieve if the focus was shared between traditional – i.e. bricks and mortar – and modern methods of construction (MMC).

The UK Government introduced the Homes Building Fund, which is providing £3 billion, with smaller builders and “innovative schemes” invited to apply. Of course, housing is a devolved matter in Scotland, and innovative schemes aren’t given the same level of financial support at present.

Not only does MMC provide a quicker solution, the quality of insulation can produce a home that doesn’t even need central heating – can you imagine not having to pay those bills every month?

MMC can provide solutions to many of our modern problems including climate change and an ageing population. Not only do we not have enough houses, we don’t have suitable homes for our ageing population.

We need innovation to design and build suitable – and attractive – homes for people who are now living much longer.

Housesm.pngThis includes single-storey, insulated and within a community. The availability of suitable single-storey housing for an ageing population is also on the cusp of crisis. And MMC can provide the design and speed of delivery to solve the crisis before it truly hits us.

In the coming months, the Scottish Government will publish draft legislation including the Warm Homes Bill and the Planning Bill.

One of the aims of the Planning Bill should be to produce a slicker – and fairer – planning system.

And the Warm Homes Bill should be spelling out the standards that builders should be constructing to.

Modern methods of construction are a way in which we can deliver more homes and better homes.

Government should be promoting this and backing it. They should be trying to get the big builders on board because, ultimately, they are the ones who will deliver most of the homes we need.

Mortgage lenders can do their bit too though.

I’ve had a couple of meetings with the Building Societies Association about this. It is encouraging to see the work that they have already done in this space; particularly their 2016 report Laying the foundations for MMC with some clear recommendations, as well as their recent visit to the Netherlands to explore MMC with lenders and valuers. However, this alone is not enough – I believe it is up to all areas of the housing industry to push and actively promote MMC in this way.

Funding sites developed by MMC firms could be one way to show this support – and I believe Scotland would be a great place to start.

I suppose the key message is that it is a collaborative approach that’s needed. I believe that it isn’t useful to just wait for government: Because wait for government and you could wait for a long time.

 

Next steps: You can follow Graham on Twitter @GrahamSMSP

Posted by Amy McCluskey on 12 January 2018