Cameron expands plans to directly commission housebuilding

Whitehall will attempt to fast-track the building of affordable homes by directly commissioning small and medium-sized developers in what it called a “radical new policy shift not used on this scale since Thatcher and Heseltine started the Docklands”.

Announcing the new policy today, prime minister David Cameron said direct commissioning will speed up housing development by allowing smaller firms to build on government sites where planning permission is already in place.

As well as supporting smaller builders, who are currently unable to take on big projects, the new approach is expected to spur new entrants into the market who are “ready to build but lack the resources and access to land”.

The first wave of up to 13,000 homes will start across five sites – one at Old Oak Common and four outside London – up to 40% of which will be affordable starter homes.

The chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, Brian Berry, said the welcome move will tear down the “single biggest barrier to SME housebuilders increasing their output”.

“Any measures that the government can introduce that will increase the number of small sites suitable for SME housebuilders will help address the housing shortfall,” he said. “It is also encouraging that the majority of these sites will already have planning permission in place as obtaining permission is all-too-often a lengthy and protracted process.”

But although Cameron argued today’s package signals a huge shift in government policy, with nothing like it being carried out in three decades, Labour’s shadow cabinet minister for housing and planning, John Healey MP, said the prime minister is just “laying on the rhetoric to hide his failure on new homes”.

“Today’s statement promises no new starter homes beyond those already announced,” he said. “With home-ownership down to the lowest level in a generation and fewer homes built over the last five years than under any peacetime government since the 1920s, David Cameron needs to do much more to fix his five years of failure on housing.”

The announcement is also not as new or as radical as Cameron claims, with plans to build and sell homes on public sector land already having been unveiled in December 2014. At the time, the plans meant the government would directly commission, build and even sell homes on public land under the National Infrastructure 2014 document.

The government had also already declared its intention to launch a pilot programme for its new housing approach on the publicly-owned former RAF base in Northstowe, near Cambridge, today announced as one of the five pilot sites for the scheme.

It said in 2014 that it would undertake an evaluation of the development and of the feasibility and economic impacts of pursuing this model on a larger scale, a task taken over by the University of York in March of last year.

The other pilots announced today are the Connaught Barracks in Dover, Lower Graylingwell in Chichester, Daedelus on Waterfront in Gosport and north west London’s Old Oak Common.

A £1.2 starter home fund was also released to prepare brownfield sites for new homes, which the government reiterated could create at least 30,000 new starter homes and up to 30,000 market homes on 500 new sites by the end of this decade.

(Top image c. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)


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