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Build Smarter

This week, the Prime Minister announced plans for the UK to ‘build, build, build’ its way out of recession, with a plan to invest billions of pounds on infrastructure to ‘build back’ to prosperity.

Johnson’s speech was reminiscent of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ almost a century ago, which took action to make reforms in industry, labour and housing in order to bring about immediate economic relief.

However, the ambitious plans appear to come with no tangible economic backing. Most of the £5 billion announced has already been allocated to previous commitments, and with the financial package to support the economy through the COVID-19 pandemic predicted to exceed £175 billion1, some might argue that the £5 billion figure seems a little tame.

Government figures show that no more than 200,000 homes a year have been built in England since 19882, yet the annual target for new house builds in this country has been 300,000 a year since 2017. For this figure to be achieved – even with the PM’s most recent pledge to invest in the construction industry – the government should be promoting and supporting housebuilders far more than they have done over the past decade.

The data shows that local authorities have only built more than 2,000 homes a year in England for three years out of the past 30, averaging just 1,142 a year in that period. In the past decade, a total of 17,620 local authority homes have been built in England, in stark comparison to a total of 215,330 in the 80s.

So, how do we readdress this given the new plans to build our way out of economic crisis?

Affordable housing is a problem that our society undoubtedly faces, and with the need for the economy to have an adrenaline injection coming out of COVID-19, what would be more appropriate than providing the money for local authorities around the UK to build social housing on a scale not seen since the 1970s?

Housebuilders could be fairly awarded these contracts, protecting the jobs of the 2.7 million3 employed in construction in the UK and potentially creating new jobs and affordable homes for thousands of families each year. Offsite construction and methods of reducing onsite time and costs would be encouraged as investment and innovation could thrive.

These homes could be designed for modern living and be energy efficient, utlising brownfield sites and high-density living where possible, built to last for generations.

But this would take a sizeable chunk of the £5 billion the PM has put aside for his ambitious economic recovery plan. If the government is truly committed to long term recovery, prosperity, and a higher standard of home for all, then maybe this figure should be larger and treated as an investment.

If we can reduce the £22 billion4 a year spent on housing benefits by a relatively small percentage the return will be within a few years, protecting the longer term economy. This, in turn, will benefit jobs in our sector and our industry as a whole.

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