Winners put Yorkshire property issues at the heart of a debate

A panel of winners of last year’s Yorkshire Residential Property Awards gathered for a round table discussion on challenges, solutions and the future of the housebuilding industry. Here’s what they said:

Factory-built home versus conventional build

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There will be more prefabricated homes and housing associations are especially keen on this type of construction.However, the growth of these factory-built homes could be slower than expected.The consensus was that while they are quicker to erect, there is no financial incentive to use them as the cost of construction is still similar to that of a conventionally-built properties. Uninspirational design and lack of choice were also seen as limiting.For now, more residential developers are embracing a hybrid model mixing traditional trades working on site with some off-site manufacturing. This includes the use of light gauge steel frames with prefabricated external and internal walls. Prefabricated roofs are also becoming more common.The view was that factory-made homes are a useful addition to the mix but they will never completely replace traditionally-built properties as they are unsuitable for some sites that require a more bespoke approach to design and build.

Skills Shortage

There is a chronic skills shortage and it is especially hard to find good bricklayers. This supply and demand issue has pushed up costs as “brickies” can now name their price.Part of the solution is taking on apprentices. The Barratt and CEG’s apprenticeship schemes were held up as exemplars.CEG runs a Forging Futures skills campus on site to teach construction skills. To make it easier for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, bus fares to site are paid for and lunch is included.

Town and city centre living

As high streets retailers are hit by online shops, competition from supermarkets and a society that is questioning how much it consumes, the panel predicts more commercial property being re-purposed into homes. This could help bring new life to town and city centres.Central Halifax, newly invigorated by the opening of its restored Piece Hall, was seen as having potential for this. Bradford city centre was also singled out thanks to its many historic buildings and a recent vote of confidence from top accountancy firm PwC, which has opened an office there.The lack of property being built for sale in Leeds city centre was flagged as an issue.Most of the large apartment schemes underway and planned are build-to-rent schemes or student accommodation. Most are funded by large institutional investors, such as cash-rich pension funds.Members of the panel reported that developers looking at building to sell had found difficulty getting finance for high rise schemes.Comparing Leeds and Manchester city centres, it was agreed that social welfare and help for the homeless was better in Leeds, making it a more pleasant place to live and work. However, connectivity was seen as inferior. Manchester’s tram system trumps Leeds’ buses and trains.

Derwenthorpe in York is a former Yorkshire Residential Property Awards winner thanks to its expansive public realm

Public realm

The panel was passionate about the need to design in opportunities for social interaction and communal green space where children can “play out” safely and neighbours can gather.The only way to achieve this on all new housing developments, they decided, is to make sure it is policy driven. They suggest strict planning rules to force developers to include public realm in all their schemes.The cost of land rarely enables the inclusion of green space but a planning rule with no get-out clause would naturally bring down the price and make public realm financially viable.The panel called on central government to respond quickly to this desperate need.

First-time buyers or lifetime tenants

The panel were split on whether young people were happy to rent for life or whether they still wanted to get on the property ladder.Some felt that many young people prefer to rent as it gives them freedom to move easily for work. They also felt that the nascent build-to-rent sector would provide the homes with built-in amenities and communities that would make renting for life more pleasurable and socially acceptable.The build-to-rent sector, which for the moment is concentrated in our most popular cities, is busy creating brands that will tempt tenants to stay loyal to throughout their life.However, the panel highlighted a flaw. Lifetime renting could lead to a drain on government resources. When tenants retire and their pension and savings don’t cover their rent, claims for housing benefit could soar.Other panel members felt strongly that many young people still crave a home of their own once they reached their late twenties.

Fulfilling housing need

One panel member pointed out that to fulfill the government’s aim of building 300,000 homes a year, “there has to be a political will and strong leadership at local level”.Wakefield City Council was cited as a local authority with an ambitious attitude towards housing development and on providing the necessary infrastructure, such as roads and community facilities. Leeds was highlighted as an area where more family housing is needed.The time taken to approve plans, agree on section 106 provisions and pre-start planning conditions were seen as a problem. The root cause is under-resourced planning departments.

Affordability

It was agreed that the only way to build affordable homes for sale is to keep them affordable forever. This means that they must always be sold for a set percentage below their market value to someone who meets the local authority criteria for affordable housing.

House prices

Only one member of the panel thought that house prices could fall, as they have in London. The rest disagreed citing good inward migration, a housing shortage and a good quality life in Yorkshire.

The Yorkshire Residential Property Awards Winners’ Dinner and Discussion was hosted by the awards’ main sponsors Womble Bond Dickinson. Those round the table were Julia Dacre Field, Claire Brook, Claire Wilkinson, James Garbett and Vicky McCombe of Womble Bond Dickinson; Graham Edward of Edward Architecture; Lee Wilkinson of PwC; Gina Powell of Simon Blyth estate agents; Sharon Dale, Yorkshire Post; Ian Ruthven of Barratt Homes; James Mohammed of Allsop; David Hodgson of CEG and Andrew Windress of ID Planning.