17 August 2012
The latest house-building figures for England paint an extremely disturbing picture in the light of the housing strategy launched last year.
The strategy was given top billing by the Government and tagged by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister as “radical and unashamedly ambitious”.
While the detail of the strategy was unconvincing, the political weight it was given suggested, to the public at least, that the full force of the Government was behind getting house building moving.
Well the figures clearly show that it isn’t. Indeed the implication in the latest housing starts figures is that a slight upward trend in homes built may well be heading into reverse.
The Government is expected in the coming month to have another go at reigniting the fire in the house building sector. But, politically, after the evident failure of its existing strategy the Coalition is exposed to the criticism that ministers don’t understand the problems and have no real understanding of what possible solutions might look like.
The graph I have put together is for private housing only and shows it on an annualised basis to avoid the effects of seasonal fluctuations. So the picture presented by the graph probably understates the severity of the numbers coming out of the DCLG, the communities department.
The DCLG statistical release shows the number of starts quarterly in England on a seasonally adjusted basis, both private and public, have dropped to the lowest level since the second quarter of 2009 when the industry was in the panic of the worst recession it had ever seen in peacetime.
Up until these figures were published construction forecasters were looking at a modest to solid level of growth in private starts and completions this year. It is possible that completions may end up ahead of the 2011 figure, but it now looks as if starts may well end up down on the year.
There has been hope within construction for some time that private house building and commercial building would help drag the industry back into growth. The likelihood now is that the already rather disappointing forecasts for growth in housing construction are likely to be revised down when this set of data is factored in.
But it’s not just the lack of growth visible in the numbers that is of concern. The actual level of house building can fairly be described as desperate in the light of the perceived need for more homes.