7th October Journal Column

CENEBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

New research has found that SME housebuilders have limited areas on which they can build. The research from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) shows that two-thirds of SMEs have claimed a lack of available land is the biggest barrier to building new homes. And it’s not the first time- this is the second year in a row the FMB’s annual House Builders’ Survey has shown a lack of available and viable land as being the biggest barrier for SMEs.

The problem no longer lies with a skills shortage, we have the workers, they want to work, but the biggest challenge lies solely in the planning process. If the building of new homes is on the decline, there will eventually be no sites for SME builders to work on.
At the minute the focus seems to be all on large sites, which is pushing out the smaller developers. The lack of opportunities for smaller developments is one of the reasons the number of homes by SMEs has fell from two thirds to less than a quarter in the last few decades.
95 per cent of SME housebuilders have reported that the information demands they are faced with during the planning process are even worse, or just as bad, as ever before.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB said that SME housebuilders should be seen as a key component of the government’s housing strategy, which means sites should be granted to them – and I couldn’t agree more!

Another simple solution to this problem is ensuring that planning departments have the capacity to engage more closely with SME house builders, ensuring planning applications are processed through the system as quickly and efficiently as they can be. Currently, the planning system treat a 300-home application in almost the same way it treats a three-home application- yet, there’s no reason for it to take the same amount of time for the two applications to be processed.

The government also need to stop bigger house builders from holding on to land without developing it in a bid to get small builders to enter the market to solve the housing crisis. It’s a waste of perfectly good land that small builders could be taking full advantage of.
You’d think the government would be doing all it can to encourage the build of new homes considering it failed to hit its target for new homes last year. Figures show that the number of new homes built between 2014 – 2015 did increase but the total is still less than half the 275,000 annual government target. In order to meet the target, they need all the help they can get, and SME house builders could be the answer to all of their problems.