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Walkley: Construction 'crisis' will thwart house building ambitions

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The “crisis” in the UK construction industry means councils would be unable to quickly increase the number of homes built even if they were handed new freedoms, the chief executive of the Homes and Communities Agency has warned.

During a panel session at the Local Government Association conference this week Nick Walkley was challenged over his assertion there was “no silver bullet” to solving the housing crisis. Southwark LBC leader Peter John (Lab) said allowing councils to build more homes, for example by lifting the borrowing cap on the housing revenue account, would fix the problem.

Mr Walkley said the “crisis in construction” was already evident, descrbing the industry as “unmodernised and in ill health” and heavily reliant on workers from overseas.

“It will take many different interventions to move forward. We are simply not equipped either as a sector or as an industry to ratchet up [home building],” he said.

Mr Walkley warned councillors that achieving the 250,000 homes a year required to solve the housing crisis would mean “homes in every ward”.

“There is no version of 250,000 homes a year that doesn’t mean everybody in the room will be thinking about homes at some point,” he said.

Mr Walkley also urged councillors to attract private rented developments backed by institutional investors, which are common overseas, into their area in order to provide better quality and more secure homes for those not able to buy and ineligible for social rent.

Challenged over the agency’s past performance, Mr Walkley, who joined two months ago, said he had got a “real sense that the agency itself has lacked a little confidence to do stuff it would have liked to do.”

He said the agency was to be renamed Homes England later in the year to reflect a new “more interventionist approach”.

Mr Walkley suggested the government’s housing white paper’s assertion that the housing market is broken indicated an appetite amongst ministers for radical new approaches. He said communities secretary Sajid Javid’s invitation in his speech to the conference for councils to come and talk to government about their growth aspirations “felt like a very strong message”.

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