Low-carbon housing needs serious attention


The announcement of yet another new Housing Minister brings into sharp relief the need for Government to focus seriously on the needs of the construction sector, says David Hopkins, Chief Executive Officer of Timber Development UK.

Rachel Maclean MP was named Minister of State for Housing on 7 February – the 14th new Housing Minister in 10 years, and the sixth MP to hold the position since 2020. The previous Housing Minister, Lucy Frazer MP, lasted just 91 days before being promoted to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

This constant merry-go-round of MPs to hold the position of Housing Minister has long been a source of frustration and wry comment for those at the front line of the construction industry, but the issue of the UK’s ongoing housing crisis is far from a joking matter.

In the 2019 Conservative Manifesto, the Government promised to build 300,000 new homes every year, and yet since then we are nowhere near even getting close to meeting those targets. Figures from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities suggest it expects to have achieved just 157,000 new homes in its 2021 housebuilding programme. There is also no target for how many of these new properties should be affordable, with many people questioning whether the right type of properties are being built to help address the housing crisis.

The limited availability of our housing stock, high inflation and rising prices are impacting families right across the country. Recent data from the Office for National Statistics showed that UK house prices increased 9.8% year-on-year in December 2022, with growth continuing to outstrip wages and making it almost impossible for young people to get onto the housing ladder.

The Government’s failure to build new homes also risks jeopardizing their flagship ‘Levelling Up’ agenda. Housebuilding is an excellent opportunity to provide fiscal stimulus to towns and cities across the country, creating vital jobs, tax revenue and improvements to local infrastructure and communities that can help people get out of poverty.

At Timber Development UK we will be looking to engage with the new minister in the coming weeks, and we hope Ms Maclean will break this ‘curse’ and hold a significant term in office, during which time significant steps can be made towards fixing this ongoing crisis.

We believe the timber supply chain has a lot to offer, and can provide the Government with a useful tool in their quest to build houses, ‘level up’ and even help to tackle the current high energy prices, by building low-carbon homes that will be futureproofed against the need for expensive renovations as we move towards a net zero economy.

The timber supply chain can produce high-quality and low-carbon homes and boasts a developed and localised manufacturing base that is ripe for expansion throughout the UK.

However, to make genuine progress on housing, our industry requires long-term stability in terms of policy, regulation and standards. We also need a strong market environment to justify the large upfront investment in skills, capacity and modern methods of construction required to make this happen.

None of these goals can be achieved if the ‘revolving door’ culture of housing ministers continues, with policy requiring long-term, sustainable solutions, not short-term sticking plasters.

You can keep up to date with all the latest news from the timber supply chain at www.timberdevelopment.uk

  • This article was written for the April issue of Builders’ Merchants Journal magazine.