By Steve Larkin, Director of Development Finance, LendInvest
As a developer, every day involves a huge amount of multi-tasking — there are simply so many different aspects of a build to keep on top of, from planning permission to booking contractors. All the while developers have to try to keep the cashflow in as strong a position as possible.
Perhaps, then, it is somewhat understandable when things are missed, or the odd shortcut is taken. The problem is that shortcuts are a fallacy — far from helping you finish quicker, they actually lead only to further issues down the line, dragging the process out even longer.
The obvious way that these issues present themselves is in a substandard quality build.
Already this year we have seen large developers admit to offering cash incentives to encourage buyers to complete on unfinished homes, and have to hand over compensation to buyers who have purchased homes with inexcusable flaws. A study by Shelter found that a quarter of buyers of new-build homes experienced major problems after completing the purchase.
But there is more to this than simply a house that doesn’t look quite right. Corner cutting can lead to additional risks being taken during the build itself. Safety in construction has improved enormously, with the rate of fatalities halving in the past two decades thanks to stringent health and safety regulations. Nonetheless, construction is the most perilous line of work, according to the Health and Safety Executive, with 196 deaths recorded between 2011 and 2016.
Gambling on safety at any point is simply unacceptable. Recent events have ensured that there is now a much greater focus on whether the homes we are building are sufficiently safe, and that is something to be welcomed. But the question of safety is one that needs to be in the front of developers’ minds from the very beginning of their projects, covering the people who are helping them complete the build and not just those who, hopefully, will live in it at the end.
As with so many areas, education is key. At LendInvest we have been clear that the housing market will look a lot healthier when there is less emphasis on the major developers, when we instead have a market that encourages small and medium-sized developers to build homes too. Our studies have found that SME developers are excluded from much of the government support that exists for SMEs from other industries, which has to change.
But helping these builders flourish means more than simply opening up a few additional tax breaks. It means supporting them so that they can build the fundamental skills base they need in order to make their projects a success, not just in terms of how to navigate the planning system but also to guarantee that they are fully on top of the safety requirements and checks that need to take place throughout each stage of the build. Safety and security needs to be a fundamental element of the project, not merely a box-ticking exercise.
Only by providing the next generation of developers with the proper training can we ensure that health and safety remains an integral part of the housebuilding process. The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.