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UKBCSD Annual Westminster Dinner, 19 November 2018

Quality, honesty and trust – this is what future growth must be based on

Forty invited guests joined UKBCSD for our annual Westminster dinner, kindly hosted by Melanie Onn MP, Shadow Housing Minister, at the House of Commons. UKBCSD Chief Executive Charles Roach chaired the evening, thanking sponsors, Baytree LLP and CBC Building Control for their ongoing support, before introducing Melanie Onn.

“It’s a pleasure to be discussing sustainability in UK industry” said Ms Onn.

“This is not just about issues of the environment but about unlocking long term economic growth.” She referred to historic examples of social sustainability, notably Saltaire in Yorkshire, saying that too much development has since been about quick profit. “We need to rediscover sustainable development in the UK. We must look at a variety of housing types with renewed vigour. Garden Towns must capture the essence of the community, we must understand the genuine nature of grass roots planning, where local people are part of the solution, not at the bottom of a ‘top down’ approach to delivery.”

Although Brexit was never far from anyone’s mind, Melanie Onn was careful not to mention the ‘B’ word, instead alluding to it, “We have a huge housing shortage, but also a shortage of builders, supplies and labour, particularly over the next few years. There is a real issue of build quality; two in five people would rather live in an old house than a new one because of quality. So we need to start rebuilding confidence in the industry, build the housing market sustainably and build skills. People want to see businesses with a greater sense of responsibility.”

Charles Roach endorsed this, asking how we – as an industry – can communicate in a different way so that trust becomes the automatic response, the rule rather than the exception. He then introduced UKBCSD director Chris Carr, Managing Director of Carr & Carr Builders and national board member of the FMB, Council Member of the NHBC and National Council member of the CITB.

With a wealth of experience as an SME housebuilder, he admitted that housing developers and sustainability don’t usually go hand in hand.

“But what I like about this organisation is that it is run by the business and public sector on a business-like footing… it’s not a dirty word to make a profit. But what we all want is to have a larger sustainability footprint for our councils and businesses. As organisations we need to work closer together with the partners in the room – share our expertise and good practice. Learn from each other.

“For a start, I know the housing industry could learn so much more from the commercial sector. They are light years ahead when it comes to energy efficiency.”

Chris focused on conditions for growth, saying we first need to know our assets, which can either constrain or release potential, whether these be infrastructure, economic drivers, employment and skills, market capacity, utilities or investment. Clarity of our current potential is critical and a clear vision going forward, a shared aim with positive outcomes.

So, what must the UK do to flourish? Over the next decade or so the industry must look at more joint ventures and partnering schemes, with all parties being honest and transparent for this to work.

“What it is about, is ensuring we are smarter in our approaches, from supply to skills, the development mix and build,” said Chris.

“We must look at offsite construction, MMC and smart construction. We must be energy secure, which is where residential can learn so much from our commercial developer colleagues.

“We need advance investment in infrastructure and resources, both public and private and we need more investment in utilities. The SME housing sector, which was once responsible for building so many of the country’s new homes, needs more development funding as the high street banks have stopped nearly all the funding to building companies with less than a £5million turnover.”

Chris concluded by noting a greater willingness from local and national government, to engage with the private sector, with elected members understanding many of the problems and what parts of the structure have broken down.

“They are open to positive suggestions or, as I call it, ‘solution opportunities’. The FMB, with which I am very involved, has now become the first port of call when Government would like to engage with the housing sector and especially the SME/micro developers. I want UKBCSD to be the first port of call when Government would like to engage with the larger development sector. This organisation is about maintaining quality and I’ll take quality over quantity any day.”

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