The government must follow through on all its promises to the housing sector

Jamie Johnson (pictured), chief executive of FJP Investment

At the 2019 Conservative Conference, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said that ugly homes have no place in his vision for UK housing, and proposed reforms to ease regulations while at the same time promoting new build constructions.

In many ways, this is good news. National targets suggest that we are hundreds-of-thousands of homes away from where we need to be to meet long-term demand. In the year ending July 2019, 170,000 new homes were built, putting the target of 300,000 new additions to the housing stock by the mid-2020s into question. Relaxing building rules should be seen as one of many important steps on the path toward increasing supply.

The changes, first announced by Sajid Javid, mean that those living in towns and cities will be able to build additional stories on their homes. The policy is part of the “up, not out” initiative, which aims to reduce the amount of residential new buildings on greenfield sites in a bid to preserve our natural heritage.

These are the kind of creative solutions that many in the industry have been calling for. And they are being matched with funding promises, too: the government also announced an infrastructure package that includes a £29bn cash injection for roads. Statistics confirm that this is a good idea; according to recent research from FJP Investment, 57% of homeowners think new builds are positioned in inconvenient locations. Better transport and roads will help allay these worries, so long as city planners ensure good traffic management.

Whilst relaxing planning rules and more funding are crucial to increasing housing supply, the problems don’t end there. The aforementioned survey of homeowners by FJP Investment revealed that half of people think they are typically unattractive, and even more (63%) think they are “devoid of character” — meaning public demand for new builds is at risk of not matching the supply, even if they are well-connected.

There are many examples of developments that ‘get it right’ in this regard, and property investment companies are beginning to understand the nuanced demands of prospective buyers interested in a new build investment.

In this vein, Jenrick also confirmed new national guidelines for architects and developers, as part of the ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful’ inquiry. Its interim report places a strong emphasis on natural beauty, recommending more tree lines and a refocus on making developments aesthetically appealing for those who will live there. But the report could be difficult to implement as it lacks regulatory teeth.

As such, the housing secretary’s announcements clearly show the government does have an understanding of the problems blighting new build appeal: the multifaceted puzzle of supply, location and aesthetics. The government’s plans for the first two seem logical, but infrastructure funding and planning reform will be less efficacious in increasing new build demand if the design guidelines are ignored — because, for many people, buying a new home is as much about style as it is about substance.

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