Tim Grey is a Director of multi award-winning family-run housebuilding company Llanmoor Homes, which has more than 50 years’ experience of the South Wales market.
Like many parts of the Welsh economy, the house building sector is slowly starting to return to business after more than two months of inactivity due to the coronavirus lockdown.
At Llanmoor Homes we have resumed operations at our sites across South Wales, albeit in a very different way to how we operated previously.
Our reopening happened in distinct phases to ensure social distancing measures were in place at all our sites before our employees and contractors returned.
These measures, along with the strict new working practices and protocols we have adopted to protect the safety of our workers, are a stark reminder that things are still very far from being back to normal.
The same of course goes for the rest of the country. The road to economic recovery is likely to be long and the journey slow.
That’s why we are appealing to the Welsh Government and Welsh local authorities to support house builders such as ourselves and work together with us to help get the economy back on its feet.
We’re not asking to be bailed out by the Government, or even for a handout. All we want is for our industry to be better understood by people in power and our work actively encouraged as a way to help stimulate the economy.
Research by The Home Builders Federation (HBF), the representative body of the home building industry in England and Wales, shows that £38 bn of economic output is generated by house building each year.
In 2017, this supported nearly 698,000 jobs, including 239,000 directly employed in the industry, or 3.1 jobs for every home built. The knock-on effect of this activity is extra resources for public services and stronger local communities and environment.
However, in Wales it feels like these benefits are not often fully understood or appreciated. Despite the urgent need to build new homes, gaining planning approval can often be a long drawn-out process with many bureaucratic hoops to jump through.
The Welsh Government’s own figures show the effect of this. In 2018-19 both the number of new dwellings started and the number of new dwellings completed fell compared to the previous year.
In fact, the number of new dwellings started (5,974) was the lowest annual number recorded since 2013-14, and the number completed (5,777) was the lowest recorded since 2012-13.
Llanmoor Homes currently has several planning applications in process with local authorities across South Wales for more than 1,000 houses. Each of those applications is going through the process of reserved matters approval – i.e. the details of a development including access, appearance, landscaping and layout.
While we understand this is an important part of the planning process, it is currently taking far too long, and that is already having a knock-on effect on other businesses that work with us and the local economies in which we work.
At a time when the national economy is under immense pressure, we can ill afford to be handicapping those industries, like house building, that have the potential to be the catalyst for future growth.
In Wales, we know development and infrastructure can help our economy recover from the damage of coronavirus. But unless we have a more flexible planning system that is overseen by people who understand house building, appreciate its value and want to work with developers like us in a constructive way, I fear the recovery will be longer and slower than necessary.