Now is a crucial time for the housebuilding industry. Housing is a top domestic priority for the government, which has set clear targets to significantly increase the supply of new homes.
That’s why Homes England was established: to intervene in the market and enable the industry to consistently speed up the delivery of new homes for the long term.
That’s exactly what we have been doing, but we don’t do it alone – we do it in collaboration with our partners from across the industry. Those involved in development will know how challenging it can be when organisations whose aspirations, cultures and commercial expectations differ greatly need to come together to deliver a successful outcome.
But nobody succeeds in isolation and in an increasingly complex environment, collaboration with partners, both new and old, is vital. That includes international collaboration, which can provide unique opportunities to harness our fantastic domestic talent too. There is strength in diversity and the strongest and most successful partnerships are rarely the conventional ones.
In May, we completed a £90m pioneering venture with Japanese housebuilder Sekisui House and regeneration specialist Urban Splash. The newly established venture, House, will build thousands of homes across the country using the latest offsite construction techniques. It took many months of dialogue and negotiation to make it happen – building relationships and understanding takes time – but now we have a global leader in offsite construction, with more than 50 years’ experience, entering the UK market for the first time. Alongside other recent investments, this is a significant boost to UK offsite housebuilding.
I’ve recently returned from Japan where I spent time with the House team, seeing first hand Sekisui House’s production lines, research and development facility and sales and education centre. There was lots of food for thought, but one surprising observation was that a substantial part of Sekisui House’s business is renovating and improving its older homes for customers.
This clearly shows a long-term commitment to the customer relationship, and whichever vintage Sekisui house you own from the last 50 years, the company is on hand with a suite of tailored options for improving energy efficiency, remodelling the interior or extending your home.
It’s with an inclusive and commercial attitude that Homes England approaches our mission. The construction sector needs to be one of the most productive of the UK’s industries to meet the housing shortfall, which is why we’re committed to improving construction productivity.
Increased housing supply will require a significant uplift in the construction workforce, with one recent study suggesting that 40% more skilled workers will be needed.
That is not sustainable, so we need to do things differently and create a digitally enabled construction industry with onsite and offsite innovations in the way we design and build homes. This will reap benefits beyond increasing our capacity to build, with higher quality, more energy efficient homes and safer building sites.
Importantly, a better control environment can ensure the consistency with which a quality product is delivered, something that has been challenging with traditional building methods.
Through our strategic partnerships with housing associations – where long-term, flexible funding is helping to increase the supply of affordable housing – we’re working with the sector to increase productivity and utilise modern methods of construction. I’m looking forward to further exploring the opportunities for collaboration with the wider industry that these partnerships offer.
The RESI Convention next week will have a diverse agenda – ranging from the impact of emerging technologies to affordable housing and mixed-use placemaking. Whatever your focus, I hope you will be asking yourself who you could collaborate with and whether you could achieve more in partnership with others. There is huge potential to forge new, long-term partnerships as we shape the future together.
Harry Swales is director of investments at Homes England