BMF gives two cheers for Shadow Housing Minister

The Builders Merchants Federation has given only lukewarm approval to Tory housing policies as articulated by Shadow Housing Minister Grant Shapps in three speeches in the last few weeks.

The BMF has been in the audience for Shapps’ last three keynote addresses: at the Conservative Party Conference; the Institute for Public Policy Research; and last week’s Construction Products Association’s Autumn Lunch. It believes that the people who will actually deliver the products and bankroll the building contractors remain lukewarm at the lack of detail about precisely what is being expected of the industry.

In Manchester, the BMF spoke to Grant Shapps on the Party Conference Fringe – and were left in no doubt about the Shadow Housing Minister’s desire to:

  • scrap national targets and hand control of building projects over directly to local communities

  • shakeup the planning system to allow local authority planning committees to be circumvented – if a proposed scheme attracted sufficient democratic approval by local residents – development could proceed in a given area

  • encourage new local housing trusts to deal directly with developers.

    Commenting on the speeches, Chris Pateman, BMF managing director, said: “Builders’ merchants welcome this commitment from the Tories that they are (in their own words) unashamedly pro-development – and that under a Conservative Government, Britain will become a nation of homebuilders.

    “Shapps deserves congratulations for striving to tackle the thorny problem of balancing two ever-present but competing demands: (a) the urgent need to build more homes each year to meet a growing demand and (b) the opinions & objectives of local people who jealously protect their neighbourhood.

    “We are delighted that (at last) some national politicians are beginning to understand the dire state of UK construction – and are prepared to say what steps they will take to overcome the difficulties faced by BMF members. Shapps’ proposals appear designed to face down NIMBYs that get in the way of housebuilding necessary to meet today’s real shortage.”

    But the BMF has genuine reservations about the Conservative approach, he added: “Three times, now, we have listened to Shapps spell out his vision. But he still only gets two cheers.

    “We still have yet to see and understand how he intends to translate his intentions into actual, on-the-ground construction. Individually & collectively, the electorate is two-faced about such development projects:

  • they want decent & affordable homes for their children to aspire to own – and get a foot on the property ladder – often using ¡¥the bank of mum & dad¡¦

  • but are more than happy to object to planning proposals they perceive as a threat to their way of life – and organise petitions, stage protests & submit written objections.

    It is this drawbridge mentality that led Conservative Environment Secretary Nicholas Ridley MP to first coin the phrase ‘NIMBY’. Grant Shapps is mistaken if he believes his measures will end the culture of Nimbyism. The plain, unavoidable fact is that – despite his best intentions – the electorate does not see the bigger picture and appreciate what is needed on a national scale.”

    In the coming months, the BMF wants to see how Tory-controlled shire county and district councils intend to exercise any new powers devolved down to them by their national leaders – assuming the Tories win the next General Election.

    The BMF estimate for the number of housing completions this year is broadly in line with those of the FMB, RICS and CPA – somewhere well below 80,000 units. This is nowhere near the Government¡¦s own annual requirement of 240,000 homes.

  • About Fiona Russell-Horne

    Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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