The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has published the results of its 10th annual House Builders’ Survey, which looks at the current experiences of small and medium-sized (SME) housebuilders in England. The only one of its kind, the FMB survey aims to gain insights from its members engaged in housebuilding on a wide range of topics.
Main constraints on supply
A crucial issue for the sector, the survey looks at the factors that are preventing SME housebuilders from building new homes. The ‘lack of available and viable land’, ‘materials shortages’ and ‘the planning system’ were the most frequent concerns, cited by 63%, 62% and 61% of respondents respectively. The report notes that this year has seen a change from the relatively stable and consistent responses across previous years. While the lack of available land has been a key concern for a number of years (the top constraint for six of the last eight years), in 2021 both material shortages and a lack of skilled workers saw significant increases. In line with the wider issues the industry faces, housebuilders reporting material shortages rose to 62% from a previous high of just 24% and those reporting a shortage of skilled workers rose above 50% for the first time.
Another important finding detailed in the report is that housebuilders have high levels of confidence in buyer demand. In fact the average figure of 3.86 out of 5 is the highest score since the question was first included in the survey in 2013. Changes in work patterns, reduced Stamp Duty and homeowners moving out of towns and cities were all cited as contributing factors.
Workforce and Skills
Despite the issues with finding skilled people, the research found that 36% of businesses are planning to grow their workforce over the next year with just 7% planning to decrease. The survey also found that 31% employed one or more apprentices and 30% provided on-site work experience in the past year – both small increases on 2020. This is important because, as noted in the report, SME businesses train 71% of apprentices in construction, including the majority of apprentice bricklayers.
Biodiversity net gain
From 2023, the Biodiversity Net Gain policy will require all new developments in England, except for permitted developments, to achieve a 10% net gain in biodiversity. However, the survey found that 69% of the SME housebuilders asked were not aware of this requirement, and many respondents saw potential issues for their business. In addition to predicted increases in cost, 53% felt it would impact the time taken to gain permission and begin building and 43% said it would make some brownfield sites less viable.
The FMB report also revealed that:
In recent years, housebuilding has receiving increased attention with the Government’s target to build 300,000 new homes per year. SME housebuilders have an important role, so it is essential to understand the barriers and drivers affecting the sector.