Land and skills shortages threaten housebuilding

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A new survey has revealed land shortages and a lack of skilled workers could derail housebuilding targets…

Chronic shortages of both land and skilled workers could have a serious impact on the housebuilding sector.

A survey of 389 housebuilders across England was carried out by property consultants McBains Cooper. It found nearly half (48 per cent of firms) had increased their rate of housebuilding over the past year. London, which has seen an acute shortage of homes, saw a 53 per cent increase.

However, respondents expressed concerns about the lack of available land to develop upon, with a total of 34 per cent noting this issue.

Skills shortages were also found to be a considerable problem, with 27 per cent of respondents listing it as one of the main issues in the sector. Among the trades with the most acute shortages are bricklayers (38 per cent) and carpenters (32 per cent).

The survey also revealed 30 per cent of respondents think the government should offer incentives to speed up developments and to persuade them from holding onto land that could be used for construction. Some 29 per cent also said there should be more construction on greenfield sites, and 24 per cent said more publicly owned land should be released.

In good news for the government, its Help to Buy scheme was said to have encouraged more building in London, with 55 per cent stating it pushed construction. Comparatively, this figure stood at 44 per cent overall.

The survey also revealed a total of 58 per cent of respondents said relaxing the planning laws in regards to developing on brownfield land would speed up the process.

Chief executive of McBains Cooper Michael Thirkettle said: “The finding that around half of housebuilders increased output over the last year is encouraging, but this survey shows many are sceptical about whether this growth is sustainable.

“The Government will need to support builders in order for growth to continue by making sure there’s enough land to build on and by helping address skills shortages that threaten to stifle growth.

“Around 300,000 people left the construction industry between 2008 and 2010, and because training and apprenticeships take time, the government should allow skilled construction workers to be listed as an occupation with official shortages.

“This would allow more recruitment from outside the EU, which is not currently possible under our immigration system, and help kick-start the housebuilding programme.

“Many firms are also reluctant to develop the land banks they have built up until market conditions improve sufficiently to give them a suitable return on their investment through a combination of higher land value, planning permission and house prices.

“The Government could play a role in easing these conditions, for example through incentives like tax breaks or development discounts.”

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