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Building the homes we need? Umm,

Houses are built to live in, and not to look on: therefore let use be preferred before uniformity.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m sorry Mr Cameron but I really think we have heard it all before.

So you’ve decided that the way forward, the way to win the next election, is to promise 200,000 new homes which will be sold at a discount for first time buyers.

Under the scheme, announced at the beginning of the month, houses will be built on brownfield land and reserved for sale only to young people buying their first homes. The discount will be 20% and will be available on homes up to £250,000 outside London and £450,000 inside London.

An extension of the Help to Buy programme – which, to be fair, did go a long way to bringing forward the recovery for the housebuilding industry – the new policy will not, The Prime Minister says, mean covering the countryside in rabbit hutches. Rather, these will be: “places to start and raise a family”.

The first time buyer step on the ladder is a vital one, we all know that. Without those coming in at the bottom of the process, there is no “churn” of people pushing their way through the sector, buying and refurbishing as they go. Bringing in much needed lolly to all sectors of the industry.

However, building 200,000 new homes isn’t enough. We all know that. Kate Barker, way back when said we needed 240,000 a year as a minimum and I haven’t noticed the population getting less, well, populous since then.

We also need to have the people with the skills and knowledge to build them. And it’s this aspect that has some organisations worried.

It’s National Apprenticeship Week this week, and while there has been a surge in the number of apprenticeships in this industry – championed by the BMF, NMBS and others – there simply aren’t enough elsewhere. The legacy of the recession – and every recession we’ve had pretty much – has been a lack of skill sets to deliver the projects we need.

In the same way that we need a throughput of younger people at the bottom of the housing market to ensure it flows smoothly, so we need a throughout of people coming into the business – into merchanting and into construction. Only then can we ensure that the busineses are fit for purpose and fit to build these homes the Government is promising.

And while we do need to boost the first time buyer sector, there is a need further up the chain for affordable housing just as much. I know people who end up being stuck in properties that no longer suit their needs because they cannot afford the next step up, so crazy have prices become in some areas.

The National Housing Federation Homes for Britain campaign says we need more homes in this country. More homes for everyone. More homes mean more building jobs, mean more building materials, mean more business for merchants and manufacturers.

That’s what we need.

However, every Government in the recent past has been told that houses are being built in insufficient numbers for the rising population. Why should we believe that whatever Government is in power after May 7th will achieve it any better than the others?

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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