Europe

Brandon Lewis: Brexit threatens to put brakes on housebuilding

MIPIM 2016: This government will deliver 1m homes by 2020 – including 200,000 starter homes. To do that, we need developers and major housebuilders to continue to build out; indeed, we want them to expand and build more. We will help, with direct commissions on public sector land.

What any developer requires – whether private or public sector – is confidence and continued support from their financial investors. And those investors need certainty over wider market conditions.

Brexit would inevitably cause investor uncertainty, which will at least slow, if not stall, the investment we need to keep building the houses we need. Without overseas investment, remember, many of our key developments – especially in London – just won’t happen. And that includes those plans for affordable homes.

For that reason, notwithstanding my feelings about the institutions of the European Union (a view I share with the prime minister), I support David Cameron’s reforms and his campaign for Britain to remain in a reformed EU. Whatever changes we think are required to benefit any industry, including housebuilding, it is important for the British government to be at the negotiating table.

The worry about possible Brexit loomed large at MIPIM in Cannes last week. The property industry, looking to invest, and British towns and cities, promoting their land to international investors – all were concerned about the impact of the UK leaving the EU.

Our property industry is international. Without access to that wide range of finance it would be crippled.

But the concerns are not only financial. Of course, as a government we are working hard to fill the skills gap in the construction industry, with a massive expansion of the apprenticeship programme. Meanwhile, we still need access to the skilled labour market that EU membership makes available to us.

Leaving would also have an impact on our supply-line export companies: 3m people are involved in such activities. And it could disrupt the imports of the supplies needed for building, from bricks to modular build models, delaying the development of the advanced construction techniques which will increase the speed of build out.

Outside the EU, we will still have our current planning system, with all the protections in place from Natural England and other agencies and councils.

We are already building a system where every council works proactively with communities and developers to identify the best land for housing – and that is how we increase housing, not by creating years of uncertainty.

To continue towards our target of 1m new homes – and meet that commitment on affordable housing – I am convinced that the UK cannot afford to leave the European Union. After MIPIM I know now that the vast majority of our housebuilding industry – and the investors who underpin it – agree with me.

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