House Builders’ Association Magazine Article Featuring ProBuild360

“Whilst I’m not advocating for convoys of concrete mixers, excavators, and dumper trucks, I feel a duty to offer my deeply considered conclusion that the malevolent forces leading to the frustrations of the Canadian truckers, the Dutch farmers, and other such “Freedom Convoys” are the same pressures being exerted on the UK House Building Industry.”

Article from the House Builders’ Association Magazine (Issue 6, 2024): 

“Welcome back house builders!

What a quarter, eh? David Wilson demolishes more than 80 nearly complete units due to “structural foundation issues”; the Competition and Markets Authority declare our industry a monopoly and begin an investigation into mergers and information sharing; and Biodiversity Net Gain is imposed on small sites (as well as large) from April 2nd. You’ll have to stick with me and read this foreword to the end to find the positives, I’m afraid.

The assault on commercial viability and self-determination continues, as does the arbitrary and obstructive administration of planning policy. In our last issue when discussing nutrient neutrality, I pointed to the suffering of farmers under “carbon tax” style policies, monopolisation of their industry, and interference from unelected bureaucrats, in caution that we may be the next victims of the same leviathan. Since then, farmers across Europe and the UK have been organising convoys of tractors to blockade airports, occupy capital cities, and demonstrate to their governments that enough is enough.

Whilst I’m not advocating for convoys of concrete mixers, excavators, and dumper trucks, I feel a duty to offer my deeply considered conclusion that the malevolent forces leading to the frustrations of the Canadian truckers, the Dutch farmers, and other such “Freedom Convoys” are the same pressures being exerted on the UK House Building Industry.

Particularly bizarre experiences with planning include developers being pressured to draw up and even to build out alternative schemes that are set out in viability assessments which are, and always have been, hypothetical commercial constructs on a spreadsheet – NOT actual proposals that are on the table. Another example would be the basic understanding (or lack of) that working through the detailed validation items, going through round after round of consultations, refining the details of the proposed scheme – only to then raise objections to the most fundamental premises of the proposed scheme (the housing mix, the size of units, even the proposed use) demonstrates an utter disregard for the resources of builders and a contempt for the continuation of business. This is not a one-off bad application; this is a shared common experience for SMEs. Most applications seem to be administered on a sliding scale between incompetence and hostile Machiavellian politicking.

With regards to site allocation the struggle comes from the utterly toothless HDT (Housing Delivery Test) and targets that are non-mandatory, no penalisation for non-delivery, and local plan continuing to be geared towards the nationals. We propose a minimum of 30% of site allocation to be small and medium sized sites, medium sized site to be defined as between ten and fifty homes, and an open land register for small and medium sites. In consultations the government are considering bringing back the penalties but only for brownfield sites, giving an excuse for non-delivery where there is little brownfield. Furthermore, as our Head of Policy & Market Insight, Rico Wojtulewicz points out, using brownfield sites as the solution to population growth in urban areas risks losing the balance between housing and non-housing needs. In all, it seems the Government and activist types are always happy to point and scream at the “crisis”, but they lack the intellectual fortitude to formulate and deliver policy-based solutions that meet acceptable standards of prudence.

This week we have had an update from DLUHC regarding the implementation of the Levelling Up & Regeneration Act 2023. It must be said, for a text that begins by suggesting it will go on to describe how the measures in the Act will “incentivise” the prompt build-out of housing sites, I saw not one “incentive”…. Only threats. Only more impositions and requirements on builders/developers, and only enhancing of existing powers and the introduction of new powers for the local authorities. Why don’t they just come out and declare war on house builders? For all the consultations with industry, civil servants holding video call meetings with house builders and our advocates, it seems that not an olive twig, let alone an olive branch will be forthcoming.

We’re not asking for subsidies; we’re not asking for deregulation. We’re asking for clarity, predictability, efficiency, and the respect for commercial profitability i.e., please may we retain any at all! Are house builders private entities with a right to self-determination and the promise of retention of profits when we do what we do to high standards. Or are we simply part of the apparatus of the state machinery – serfs, being told what crops to grow and to hand them over and hope what they allow us to keep is enough to survive? There is no carrot here, it’s all stick. I will remind you all that we’re still none the wiser in regards of the possibilities or definitions of powers that may yet soon be afforded to local authorities to require open-book cost information and even having the right to take a “profit share” from developments that perform better than expected commercially. These are things specifically proposed in the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill, and with no outright rejection or protection provided as a result of the consultations that were concluded in June 2023, they are very much still on the table. The tone of this update is very ominous in my reading of it.

Now, as I write this DLUHC have announced new compulsory purchase orders for councils to do away with “hope value” (what land or property would actually be worth on the free market). For the sake of diplomacy, I will withhold my instinctive opinion on this until my fellow board members and I have agreed our collective viewpoint (when they have calmed me down from my initial outrage). But needless to say, personally, state interference wielding ever more potent powers to the ends of social engineering and market manipulation is not something I will be cheerleading.

Enough doom and gloom… On a positive note, a massive win for us is the ministerial statement put out by Lee Rowley MP and Baroness Penn to the effect that planning departments must not arbitrarily set energy performance standards above and beyond building control standards. So far, this message doesn’t seem to have got through to the minds of planning departments with some departments, but at least it gives us a very strong tool to push back on net zero policies being imposed when they are unwarranted. There are even planning departments imposing net zero policies that are only just coming into effect on developments that have been in planning for years. How does this even make sense? Viability assessments – out of the window. Projected build costs – as useful as a chocolate teapot. But a ministerial statement like this is a stone in David’s slingshot aim he takes aim at Goliath, and we need all the ammunition we can get.

Another green shoot of hope is that there are some early signs that government bodies seem to be acknowledging the potential benefits of engaging SME house builders by breaking down site allocations in a more strategically prudent way. Perhaps this might go some way to returning the percentage of units delivered by SMEs from today’s shameful 7%-8% to the 38%-40% of the late 80’s, and hopefully when I give you the foreword to the next issue of this magazine, I may have a better outlook on site allocation as was set out earlier in this one. Until then, keep up the good fight, and we hope to meet old acquaintances and new friends soon at our upcoming events – Ubi bene, ibi patria…”

Author – Michael Parinchy, Senior Construction Manager at ProBuild360



Related Posts