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A Small Solution To A Big Problem

tony abel

Whilst there is a wide divergence of views when it comes to the debate about housing, most people can agree on one thing: if we are to solve the UK’s current housing crisis and provide enough homes at a level which is affordable, then we must be building more new homes, writes Tony Abel.

By the age of 30, just 30 per cent of ‘millennials’ (those born after 1981) own their own home; the figure for those born between 1966 and 1980 was 45 per cent, and for the post-war baby-boomer generation, 55 per cent.

The reasons for this decline are complex, and include lower incomes for the younger generation compared with their parents, the tightening of the mortgage market after the 2009 crash, and the difficulty of raising a deposit for a cohort which is saddled with student debts.  But the main reason is simply a lack of supply – not enough homes.

The government has agonised about how to stimulate the market to build more quickly, and in recent times it has started to talk about how smaller developers might be a big part of the answer.

Currently, just eight house builders are responsible for over half the new homes built in the UK.  This domination of the market provides these big companies with little incentive to build more quickly, and as long as local authorities focus on big-scale sites which can realistically only be fulfilled by huge corporations, the situation will not change.

By contrast, not only do smaller house builders have a much stronger incentive to build out their projects (they don’t have the big cash reserves to sit on undeveloped land), the evidence is that smaller-scale developers also contribute far more to local communities than the ‘big boys’.

Perhaps it’s because those of us who operate in our local area know that we can be held more accountable than anonymous developers who ‘build and run’; perhaps it’s because we feel a genuine connection to the communities in which we live as well as work; or perhaps it’s just something about the culture of a small company.

Whatever the reasons, smaller house builders, and especially local-based ones, simply contribute more to their local communities.  As an illustration of this, tonight we will unveil the latest in our series of community artworks on our site at Hingham – we committed ten years ago to create a public artwork by a local artist at each of the sites where it builds new homes.

In addition to our statutory duties (building 29 affordable homes and handing over £440,000 to South Norfolk Council), we have voluntarily contributed in many ways to the community in Hingham while we have been building there, from supporting the primary school in financial and practical ways, supplying outdoor gym equipment on the local recreation ground, sponsoring local sports clubs, and even commissioning a special beer, the proceeds of which went to village amenities.

We love to do these things, and see it as a moral duty, even if it isn’t a statutory one.  It is what sets smaller developers apart from the big companies, and another reason why we should be viewed as a big part of the solution to our housing challenges.