We must be brave with our decisions on future housing
Akey figure in regional construction has called on more to be done to help stimulate house building.
While praising the efforts of the new administrations on a local and national level, Chris Carr, chairman of Grimsby & District Builders' Association, and regional delegate / branch secretary of the Federation of Master Builders, said there were further opportunities to grasp.
Tomorrow he is part of a select gathering to meet Business Secretary Vince Cable and Housing and Planning Minister Grant Shapps in Westminster.
The fourth generation housebuilder, joint managing director of Cleethorpes-based Carr and Carr (Builders) Ltd, sees potential avenues to help a sector renowned for a slow recovery out of recession mount the comeback required.
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And while energy efficiency targets are a particular thorn in the side, he sees the renewables boom in northern Lincolnshire as a major platform to exploit, ensuring it is not just companies, but communities that benefit from those relocating to the Humber bank.
Mr Carr said: "We have got to be prepared for the housing need going forward. The Government does listen. We have already sat in a room with ministers and their aides, and they have asked 'how can we help? What can we do for the building industry?'.
"On a local level Chris Shaw (North East Lincolnshire Council leader) has been great too. There is an open arm policy going forward, again, the question was 'what can we do to help you deliver quality housing?'. The changes are positive. now we have to be brave with decisions we are taking. We have to be forward thinking. Job creation and housing go hand in hand. It is time to be brave."
Reflecting on one of the reasons why Toyota chose Derby over Grimsby in the late Eighties, Mr Carr said part of it was a lack of executive housing.
"We still see that in North East Lincolnshire now," he said. "If you sit at Tollbar Roundabout in a morning you cannot get passed it because of the traffic coming in from East Lindsey. We are losing a lot of the principal people to out of town areas.
"Waltham is seen as a desirable area, but there has been no new housing developments over 10 units in more than 20 years, yet it is one of the most popular areas to live.
"We have got to be sure we have the quality housing available, and it has got to be available quickly. If the Able development and all the associated jobs come off we will need housing ready in six months.
"Planning alone can take 18 months. The local authority has picked up on that and is now delivering on that."
And while offshore wind could bring demand, particularly if the North Killingholme project is realised with manufacture and assembly added to the growing operations and maintenance work in Grimsby, another energy issue is conflicting policy and practice.
"There is an aim for zero carbon housebuilding by 2016, but it just cannot be delivered," said Mr Carr. "The cost of obtaining zero carbon, Code Four sustainability and 20 per cent renewable energy in new homes is between £30,000 to £50,000 per unit on a three to four bed detached property. That is seen as an issue as no mortgage lender will lend the money because there is a set value attached to a four-bed house in a particular street or area. People want them, they just cannot afford to buy them.
"The policy that is being chased is not achievable, it is a pointless exercise. There has been a massive leap over the past five or six years to increase energy efficiency with new properties but we don't seem to be doing anything about the existing housing stock. We can spend £20,000 on a house and reduce the carbon footprint by 2 or 3 per cent, if we did that with the existing housing stock we could save 70 to 80 per cent."
They are points put to key lobbying organisations, of which Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce is one, as he addressed the North East Lincolnshire area council's last meeting. He has had notable success too.
A decision to further open up a £570-million fund called Get Britain Building was influenced by the membership of the FMB which Mr Carr represents. Access to the finance was subsequently lowered to 25 unit builds rather than the initial 50 unit baseline.
"That brought a whole swathe of other developers in to the market, and is something we have not had before," he said.
The programme aims to unlock stalled sites to support construction activity, delivering more than 15,000 new homes, by addressing difficulties in accessing development finance. A total of 224 schemes have now been invited to take part in a thorough due diligence process.
A GREATER awareness of the pressurised environment construction companies are working in has been championed by Mr Carr.
He has urged local authorities not to laden developments with requirements that impact on margins and prices.
"We need a better understanding of the financial constraints we are working in," he said, referring to the lack of appetite from banks to loan to construction projects and demands from authorities for contributions to communities that are created.
Current legislation allows for conditions to be imposed when planning permission is granted, forcing developers to provide benefits as part of the package.
"A Section 106 agreement is a wish list for council projects, be it education, social housing, highway improvements, anything they want," said Mr Carr. "If it is open space, you then have to maintain the open space. It only gets spread across the cost of the housing on the site. A good third of a house value can go to local and national government as an unofficial tax. They are looking at relaxing the Section 106, but not as much as they should."
Mr Carr said North East Lincolnshire's planning faculty, now headed up by Balfour Beatty Living Places, was improving, and praised regeneration executives Marc Cole and Jason Longhurst for their work.