Lichfield City Councillor and Governor of Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, David Dundas, explains how adopting a continental approach to housebuilding would allow local building contractors the opportunity to work on larger housing developments, currently in the hands of a few national developers, and how such an initiative would provide the incentive for smaller builders to grow their firm, take on tradesmen and apprentices, and subsequently provide greater long term stability to UK housebuilding.
The new funding in the budget for house building is welcome news, but the proposals do not focus on the core problem in UK house construction, which is that local building contractors are unable to take the lead and build houses on a large housing development which is in the hands of a few national developers.
I lead a discussion group here in Lichfield and our report last year on this problem caught the eye of Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, who invited us to meet him in London to discuss our ideas, which are based on the way that house development on the continent works.
It is common practice on the other side of the Channel, and it is the law in Germany, that the only entity allowed to develop agricultural land, is the local authority; I know this because Lichfield is twinned with Limburg in Germany where I, and other Councillors, have discussed the way that house building is done in Germany. There the local authority purchases the land for a development of say 500 dwellings, designs the layout of the development, installs the infrastructure of roads and utilities, and sells off the plots to individuals, local builders and national developers. This gives local builders the chance to build a small number of houses, and provides the incentive for builders to grow their firm and take on tradesmen and apprentices for the long term.
The problem for such a scheme here in the UK is that local councils feel that it is too risky for the councillors to take the first step in acquiring and preparing the land. I would argue that this risk is very small, but it could be mitigated if the government would underwrite this perceived risk.
The continental way of providing ready to build development land for housing by the local authority, and the resulting access to it by local builders would bring greater long term stability to house building in the UK, by motivating our builders to invest in the training of tradesmen, and the profit arising from the sale of the plots would provide a welcome new revenue stream for local councils.
Written by David Dundas
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