Worst-ever figures reveal just 454 affordable units started in first half of year
Sector leaders warn of house building crisis
Figures on affordable housing starts published this week have been described as a ‘disaster’ and ‘alarmingly low’ by social landlords.
The Homes and Communities Agency figures, published on Tuesday, show there were just 454 starts in England in the first six months of the financial year, compared with 13,626 for the same period last year - the worst figures on record. Completions also fell from 19,549 to 12,803.
The figures illustrate the extent of the slowdown in the affordable housing market in the same week in which the government claimed its ‘radical’ housing strategy would ‘get Britain building again’.
Delays in signing contracts under the £1.8 billion affordable homes programme, the sluggish mortgage and construction markets, along with uncertainty over policy reforms have all been cited by the sector as reasons for the low numbers of starts.
Whatever the cause, the steep drop in activity has still shocked many and fuelled fears about growing council waiting lists.
Brendan Sarsfield, chief executive at 20,000-home association Family Mosaic, said: ‘The disaster will be the lettings not being available in 18 months, when local authorities desperately need our help and won’t be in a position to get it.’
Keith Exford, chief executive of Affinity Sutton, described the number as ‘alarmingly low’ and said it would now be a challenge to deliver the 170,000 homes expected by 2015.
London only saw 56 starts during the period. Nigel Minto, head of housing and planning at umbrella group London Councils, said: ‘That can only indicate that there will be future supply problems in London in a context where, in the past six months, more than 5,000 households were accepted by London boroughs as homeless.’
The north west did not see any affordable housing starts at all, while the east of England and Yorkshire and the Humber had one and five starts respectively.
Stephen Teagle, managing director of housebuilder Galliford Try, said changes brought in by the affordable homes programme had created uncertainty, which had affected supply.
The HCA has attempted to boost activity by offering to pay 75 per cent of a scheme’s subsidy upfront if the development is started. It also wrote to associations to say it expected them to have signed their contracts by mid-November and warned it would review allocations if necessary.
Pat Ritchie, chief executive of the HCA, said she always expected a ‘dip’ in starts as the sector switches to the new affordable homes programme, adding she expected ‘greater delivery in the next six months’.
The HCA was not able to provide a figure for expected new starts this year, or state whether it would match the 49,361 delivered in 2009/10, because it ‘only forecasts completions’.
The government’s housing strategy was criticised by shadow housing minister Jack Dromey for not including clear targets, such as the 450,000 figure widely expected following media briefings.