Monthly Archives: March 2017

Housing white paper

Housing White Paper’s Building Boost

How the Housing White Paper aims to fix ‘Britain’s Broken Housing Market’

The start of this month saw the publication of Fixing Our Broken Housing Market, a far reaching White Paper on Britain’s housing market. Its aim is to address the UK’s housing crisis by increasing density in urban centres and the creation of Garden Towns. Greater local authority control over planning applications and more affordable housing are among the other proposals.

The White Paper opens with the line that the UK’s housing market is broken. It also states how fewer young people are getting on the property ladder. To fix Britain’s Broken Housing Market, it suggests speeding up the development time of new schemes from three years on average to two years. It states the need to build houses “in the right places”, which in layperson’s terms could be due to market forces as well as localised plans.

Also part of the prescription is greater transparency in the planning system. That in the context of local infrastructure needs, from health centres to shopping precincts and bus routes. It also proposes greater competition in the housing market. This part of the white paper is traditional post-1980 Conservative Party thinking. That of challenger companies hoping to ruffle the feathers of established incumbents. On the other hand, this could allow for innovative thinking by architects and self-builders.

The White Paper in relation to affordable housing

Towards the end of the paper, the fourth step focuses on affordable housing. An income eligibility cap of £80,000 is proposed (or £90,000 in London) for starter homes, a plan which aims to offer affordable housing for key workers. Another proposal entails the definition of Affordable Private Rented Housing: in other words, rent controls for privately let houses.

The White Paper offers some extra powers for community involvement and the local authority’s role in planning applications. But the paper doesn’t go far enough. There is nothing in the paper about clamping down on bogus landlords (Rachmanism). There are no immediate solutions like rent controls. It is clearly a case of ‘must try harder’: a C- grade in our view.

Balfour Beatty’s Brexit Broadside

Balfour Beatty’s Brexit Broadside

How Hard Brexit could have a negative impact on construction industry skills

The end of next month could see the triggering of Article 50 by Prime Minister Theresa May. This, being the first part of Britain’s divorce proceedings with the EU, could see the construction industry at a crossroads. The negotiation process, all being well, is set to take two years. What has concerned many EU nationals and businesses is the kind of Brexit terms we may be about to receive.

Among the biggest critics is Balfour Beatty, the well known civil engineering business noted for motorways and railways. The contracting giant expressed its concerns for the future of the rail industry in a recently published paper. It warned that:

“Uncertainty around the free movement of labour in the EU could increase the industry’s recruitment and staffing difficulties as it may no longer be able to handpick highly skilled engineers from other EU countries as is currently the case.”

This is where Hard Brexit is going to make employing people from Mainland Europe and the Republic of Ireland difficult. With the Hard Brexit, there is no freedom of movement. The United Kingdom could only be subject to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. This would also mean severing ties with the European Economic Area countries (all EU Member States plus some outside including Norway and Switzerland), the Customs Union, and the Schengen Agreement. The last enables free trade with the Republic of Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Recently, Balfour Beatty has recruited personnel from Greece and Portugal, who have helped to modernise Britain’s railways. Only 0.2% of applicants came from non-EU countries, citing bureaucracy as its principal issue.

Furthermore, exiting the European Union will exacerbate skills shortages in the rail industry. According to their sources, the average age of rail engineers is 56 years old. This is no good if the future Sir Nigel Gresley is separated by visa and work permit issues as well as the English Channel.

With the House of Lord’s inflicting yet another defeat for Government momentarily securing the rights of EU nationals and with HS2 being given Royal Assent, Balfour Beatty’s fears are well and truly justifiable.