Andrew Charnley, MD, Assetz Capital.
Housing has dominated the domestic news headlines across recent months, as both the Conservatives and Labour start to gear up for the next general election. The UK faces many pressing social issues, but one of the key ones remains housing, and you must go back far too many years for any semblance of a coherent government strategy to solve what can often feel like a topic we hear a lot about, but don’t see tangible, sustained and meaningful actions to address. It remains incredibly challenging for market participants to plan effectively and the lack of a coherent and credible plan on this topic, is what the next government must enact, if it is to have any chance of convincing markets that it is serious about tackling the endemic problem.
Planning reforms are not a “nice to have” and should be seen as an “absolute must”. For too long, successive governments have not tackled this deeply embedded obstacle to delivery of new build housing stocks, to not only sustain underlying demand across the UK, but also to help build and sustain local communities. Changes to how unoccupied properties are brought to market as well as speed and collaboration with the housebuilding industry are long over-due. Every developer I talk too has the same issue, so surely any new government would be wise in addressing, to build confidence in its commitment to resolving root cause rather than the symptoms.
As a society, our world is constantly evolving, and a good example has been the shift to hybrid working, so why would government not look to adapt the planning system to make it easier for investors to convert commercial/mixed use sites into residential only properties?
Housing affordability is both a very real current challenge and a potential time-bomb for the UK. You only have to go back to the mid 1990’s to understand the underlying issue, when at that time, average house prices were only c4x average income. By the turn of 22/23, the average purchaser was spending more than c8x. A sharp (and to many unexpected) rise in borrowing costs has only increased the problem, and as a result, whoever forms the next government must not only address the current challenges, but also set out how it will address and solve the thematic issues playing out.
With the building of new homes at a recent historical low level, and the current government having shelved its last manifesto pledge of mandatory housebuilding targets, its hard to see any other scenario, than an actual increase in the problem, at least in the short term, given the likely increase this will cause between demand and supply.
Whoever wins the next election (and I won’t state my political leanings here), it has never been more important to have a vibrant and dynamic specialist lending sector, which stands ready to support property investors and developers alike. Experienced operators will be successful despite a complex and challenging environment, and no doubt will remain robust and resilient, irrespective of who forms the next government.
Here at Assetz, we are proud to have and continue to play our part in support SME housebuilders and investors. With our next lending milestone of £2bn fast approaching, we remain firmly committed to the sector and have a team of subject matter experts to help and support our client base, throughout the UK. Whether it is blue, red or a coalition colour in No 10 next year, we will be ready to continue supporting the building of new homes and wider communities, and in so doing, continue to make a positive difference.
The UK SME housebuilding sector is full of passionate, talented, and experienced developers, specialist lenders, surveyors, bankers, architects, land buyers and tradespeople. Perhaps the next government should think how best to harness this talent pool and get everyone not only on the bus, but also pulling in the same forward looking and positive direction? Now there’s a thought for either Kier or Rishi to perhaps mull over as they prepare their battle buses for 2024.
We all know that in any business sector, stability is key. The time is right for a new government to provide clear leadership to our vital SME housebuilding sector and start to lay the foundations (pardon the pun) for the next 20 years, enabling the plethora of quality operators, to do what they are great at…..building quality homes across the UK to support local communities and address a key social challenge facing the country. To not do this, would be walking past the problem yet again, would be a wasted opportunity to affect genuine positive economic, social, and political change. We will all be watching.