The Housing Minister shared the Government’s ambition for housing in his opening address to The Housing Forum National Conference on 20th October. Christopher Pincher acknowledged the resilience and resourcefulness of the industry during the pandemic and the early return to site working.
The Minister’s message focused on the importance of building a legacy of better, safer, greener and more beautiful homes for future generations. Key policy areas for the Government are building safety, oversight for the whole building environment, bringing procurement into the digital age, and applying innovative technology to housing construction with an emphasis on a sustainable environmental heritage.
Stephen Teagle, Chief Executive Vistry Partnerships and Chair of The Housing Forum, thanked the Minister: “In The Housing Forum’s membership, we have commissioners of housing, manufacturers, designers, consultants, and constructors, giving a collective view and reflecting a voice across the industry that’s quite unique.
“This breadth means we’re in a great position to deal with the issues of the day, and to engage with government on its agenda. Most importantly, it allows us to concentrate on delivering more and better homes. And in order to do that, we have to work collectively, collaboratively in partnership.”
‘Shaping our future housing’ was the theme and the conference began with an overview of the economic shock arising from the pandemic. It then moved on to examine four factors — productivity and preparation, partnerships, procurement, and quality and standards — all major and immediate issues facing housing delivery.
Simon Rawlinson, Head of Strategic Research and Insight, Arcadis, provided a challenging assessment of the conflicting signals in the housing market. In his view, short-term measures are benefiting the housing industry, but these measures are time-bound. A partial return to growth has recovered about half of output but the economy is shrinking, and a drop of GDP by 10% this year is the best case scenario.
Regardless of the pandemic, the industry has a long-term struggle with productivity; it is potentially a good market if we are aware of business risk. Supply chain resilience should be our number one priority to ensure no disruption to recovery.
Productivity and Preparation
This stream explored the challenges of ensuring levels of productivity are maintained to meet housing demand of the right quality. Opening the stream, Stephen Teagle talked about how a ‘productivity dividend’ had come out of the logistical planning requirements of the pandemic.
Varun Soni, Associate and BIM Manager, calfordseaden, added: “There needs to be a focus on not going back to where we were. Pre-COVID, we were the second least digitialised industry in this country. There’s going to be a greater drive to be more productive with increased usage of BIM.”
Local Authority Leader John East opened this session. He highlighted how partnership working had become paramount and the clear evidence of increasing collaboration between the private sector, local authorities and registered providers. He revealed that joint ventures are seen as a way of managing risk in an uncertain economy, and local authorities are looking for long-term partners.
Kevin Lowry, Interim Director of Housing and Growth, Manchester City Council confirmed this trend, explaining their value and drive as “the only way to meet the target in time”.
Caroline Compton-James, Director Strategy and Communication, Osborne, opened the stream, saying: “Irrespective of the role that you and your organisation plays in the delivery of housing, there is widespread recognition that our procurement frameworks don’t always produce the outcomes we need.”
Matthew Goulcher, Managing Director, Levitt Bernstein and Chair of The Housing Forum Procurement Working Group, called on the industry to deal with the risk of procurement at each stage of the procurement process and stop passing risk along. This will be set out with other guidance in the forthcoming Housing Forum Procurement Guide.
Quality and Standards
Jamie Ratcliff, Executive Director of Business Performance and Partnerships, Network Homes, opened the final stream by saying how much he enjoyed the hybrid nature of the conference. He felt that whether at the venue or online, delegates would be getting a great deal out of it.
Jamie highlighted the significant issue of large numbers of buildings that haven’t been constructed properly and the challenge of prioritising those that need to be looked at first, and the need for more government help.
Steve Evans, Head of Technical Services, NHBC, focused on the implications of the draft Building Safety Bill and cautioned: “Building owners need to be talking to stakeholders and reviewing the competencies of those involved in high-risk buildings.”
Final speaker Susan May, Head of Housing Design, Urban Design London, closed her presentation by saying: “We are all striving towards a new ethical approach, going beyond value for money and towards making something of lasting value.”
Stephen Teagle reminded all delegates that, wherever they are in the supply chain, the efforts they are making in a challenging housing market have an important role to play in society. “When you go home today, you’ve not just been talking and thinking about building houses, you’re actually thinking about creating life chances for people.”