A series of measures have been confirmed by Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government, to ‘restart, reopen and renew the housing market – safely’ in England.
Of the new plans, the national media headlines have focused on the Government’s announcement that, from 13th May, anyone in England can move home if they follow new guidance published by the Housing Secretary.
Since lockdown restrictions were implemented in March, more than 450,000 people have been unable to progress their plans to move house yet all buyers and renters will now be able to complete purchases and view properties in person, while estate agents, conveyancers and removals firms can return to work while following social distancing guidelines.
However, the Housing Secretary also announced a series of measures to get the country building homes for the future, including:
allowing builders to agree more flexible construction site working hours with their local council, such as staggering builders’ arrival times, easing pressure on public transport;
enabling local councils and developers to publicise planning applications through social media instead of having to rely on posters and leaflets, helping to unblock the service;
support for smaller developers by allowing them to defer payments to local councils, helping those struggling with their cash flow while ensuring communities still receive funding towards local infrastructure in the longer term.
A new Charter has also been launched by the government and the Home Builders Federation, helping construction sites reopen in line with latest health and safety guidance. In addition to a number of leading housebuilders and suppliers, merchant firms such as Travis Perkins, Saint-Gobain, Wolseley UK, Grafton Group and MKM have also endorsed the initiative.
John Newcomb, Chief Executive Office of the Builders Merchants Federation, said: “Safety has the highest priority as the industry returns to work. Over the past three weeks, since the publication of new branch operating guidelines, we have seen increasing numbers of merchants safely re-opening or expanding operations to support their trade customers.
“House builders structured return to site provides even more confidence within the supply chain, and provides further evidence of the construction industry’s determination to assist in the recovery of the UK economy.”
Stewart Baseley, Executive Chairman of the Home Builders Federation, added: “Over the past week or so many house builders have commenced a gradual return to work, in a structured way that ensures the safety of its workforce and the general public.
“The industry sustains hundreds of thousands of people in numerous roles and associated sectors, boosting local economies across the country. A resumption of work will play a major part in helping the economy recover as well as delivering the homes the country needs.
“It should also provide the supply chain with the confidence it needs to accelerate its own restart. The Charter is the public facing evidence which supports the very detailed protocols individual builders now have in place to ensure safe working on sites.”
The Government reminds the industry that guidance from Public Health England must continue to be followed. For example, anyone advised to self-isolate should continue to do so and not move home.
It has also recently been made by Government guidance that tradespeople can operate in homes, provided they do so in line with health guidance. Show homes can also re-open, following social distancing guidance.
Specifically referencing Taylor Wimpey’s latest update, announcing the re-opening of its sales centres and showrooms, David O’Brien, equity analyst at Goodbody, said: “It is good to see that government is supporting the housebuilding industry and following its guidelines which came into force at midnight last night, Taylor Wimpey are announcing the re-opening of its sales centres and show homes from May 22nd. This follows on from the its phased approach to restarting construction with work having recommenced on 90% of its sites in England and Wales.
“Visits will be conducted via pre-booked appointments only and of course strict social distancing measures will be in place. We expect to see other UK housebuilders announcing similar measures in the coming days.
“Taylor Wimpey has sold 408 homes through the lockdown period, equating to a net private sales rate of 0.3 homes per outlet per week. For context the sales rates through 2019 was just below 1 (0.96 according to January trading update). Taylor Wimpey remains in a strong position from an order book perspective with the current order book up 5% in unit terms and perhaps even more importantly, up around 1.4% sequentially compared the order book at April 19th, highlighting the pent up demand which will likely start being release as lockdowns are lessened.”