By Geeta Nanda OBE, Vice-chair at G15 and Chief Executive at Metropolitan Thames Valley (MTVH)
Everyone involved in the housing and construction world recognises the massive contribution our sectors can make to the economic recovery the country so desperately needs. The house building industry in England and Wales supports nearly 700,000 jobs and every £1 spent on construction generates almost three times that amount in boosted economic activity.
Yet, if we’re going to unleash this stimulus to help build back better, there are some issues that we have to see resolved urgently.
The G15 – the group of London’s largest housing associations – provide homes to 1 in 10 Londoners and we build a quarter of all London’s new homes. The organisation I lead, Metropolitan Thames Valley, has ambitions to build 15,000 new homes over the next ten years and G15 members want to build the homes we need to boost the economy and to tackle the housing crisis that existed long-before the pandemic.
However, the challenges of addressing building safety issues in existing homes, and a lack of grant funding to build new affordable homes, are acting like a vice preventing us from unleashing a wave of new building.
With homeowners unable to move or remortgage until thousands of buildings can be assessed, and too few qualified assessors available to do so, the toll on people’s wellbeing – let alone the economic impact – is huge. We of course support all efforts to address building safety issues, but government and the lenders have got to find a way to support building owners to progress rectifying issues, without trapping people and forcing them to put their lives on hold. Estimates of the cost of building safety works to the tallest buildings in London alone stretch beyond £6billion – without further central government backing, the impact such cost could have on development aspirations is clear to see.
Development of new homes not only boosts the economy, it changes lives. Throughout this crisis, we’ve all taken more time to recognise the contribution so many people have made to getting us through. We must not forget them as we move forward with the recovery.
Many of these heroes are already housing association residents, but many more sit on social housing waiting lists, living in insecure and expensive housing. The new Affordable Homes Programme is welcome, but the over-reliance on cross-subsidy from the sale of private housing to fund social housing isn’t going to build the ‘homes for heroes’ that we need.
The government needs to see grant for building affordable housing as an investment. An investment in the economy; an investment in infrastructure; and an investment in people who have done so much at a time of unprecedented peace-time crisis.
G15 members are committed to doing all we can to help ensure we support the recovery London and the country needs. Let’s work together with government to get to grips with these issues, so we can move forwards to build back better.