A wave of construction companies have announced plans to start building again. How long will it take to get UK housebuilding back on track?
A number of UK housebuilders have revealed their intentions to reopen their construction sites in the coming weeks, while some have already begun their phased reopenings. This comes as housing secretary Robert Jenrick has urged companies that can still operate in the construction sector to get up and running again.
Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey, Vistry and Redrow will all be getting workers back on their building sites. This will of course involve sticking to the lockdown rules currently in place. For example, face-to-face conversations must be limited to 15 minutes, and people must be able to work two metres away from each other.
However, the government has been criticised for not making the guidelines for building sites clear enough. This led to some construction companies coming under fire for remaining open. Others closed down initially but have now been able to reopen.
How are builders able to operate?
Many housebuilders are taking a phased approach to reopening their sites. Taylor Wimpey, for example, will start to resume operations on 4th May, and will increase its capacity over the following weeks. It has developed new protocols and revised guidance, and will provide PPE to workers where necessary.
It is also enforcing a Taylor Wimpey COVID-19 Code of Conduct, which all members of staff, subcontractors and suppliers must adhere to.
Chief executive of Taylor Wimpey, Pete Redfern, said: “We are now confident that we have clear plans and processes in place so we can safely start back on site in a phased way beginning on 4 May.”
Persimmon and Vistry have also begun a phased reopening, starting this week. Like Taylor Wimpey, they have spent the past few weeks devising new protocols to allow a safe return to work.
“Nothing is more important to us than the health, safety and wellbeing of the public, our colleagues, subcontractors and suppliers. Having spent the last month developing and testing new site protocols that incorporate the necessary social distancing and protective measures, we believe that we are now able to return to site safely and support the UK’s economic recovery from the pandemic.”
Similarly, Redrow will commence operations in mid-May, after closing its sites at the end of March.
More support needed from government
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick is backing the move towards reopening more construction sites. His support, as well as the measures taken by larger builders, could provide encouragement to many smaller builders. It is hoped, therefore, that the construction market could begin to pick up again fairly quickly.
In his statement, Jenrick said: “I welcome developers reopening sites following careful consideration of public-health guidance. Building the homes the country needs is vitally important. Work in construction can and should continue.”
“I hope to see further housebuilders reopen shortly — once they’ve also worked through how to meet social distancing guidelines and protect their workforce.”
However, some think the government should do more to help the industry. Justin Gaze, head of residential development land at Knight Frank, believes there needs to be a more pragmatic approach.
“Extending Help to Buy and relaxing planning regulations to give developers greater flexibility on Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) payments would be greatly welcomed. Introducing a stamp duty holiday and streamlining the conveyancing process would also be a major stimulus. These measures would no doubt act as a real driver for the wider UK economy; helping to create jobs, new housing and ultimately receipts for the treasury via increased liquidation in the market.”
Predictions for 2020 and beyond
Most industry experts agree that it is simply too early to tell exactly how COVID-19 will impact the housebuilding industry. However, the fact that many companies have already found ways around the issue is a promising sign.
A report from Knight Frank recently revealed there could be a drop in production of almost 35% from the sector.
Oliver Knight, research associate at Knight Frank, said: “More intangibly, consumer sentiment will also impact recovery, and the fact remains that housebuilders will only build what they can sell. In the short-term, this will mean giving priority to restarting and completing sites where there are existing customer orders.
“Of course, the key question which will determine the impact is ‘how long’. If Covid-19 disruption is short-lived that could mean the UK can get back on track relatively quickly. However, the longer the disruption the greater the pressure on the market and longer the recovery.”