Shapps Puts House Builders On The Spot

Suddenly, the spotlight is on the house builders. Can they meet the challenge that the government has set them?

The ‘Right To Build’ initiative by Grant Shapps, allowing up to 20 homes to be built in some communities without planning consent providing local residents agree, means house builders will have to truly consult, cajole and persuade.

They are not all as experienced at this as one might think, or as they may suggest. Although some builders have undertaken extensive consultation of their own for some schemes, many merely left it to councils to arrange and fund the statutory consultation process leading up to that same council making the planning decision.

If planners and councils are now out of the equation, the charm offensive is down just to builders – and they have a mixed record when it comes to dealing with the public.

Until now, most inter-action between builders and public has taken place AFTER a scheme has been built rather than before.

Extensive ‘customer surveys’ by many builders show startlingly good responses by people who have bought their homes. Often the figure is 90%-plus being very satisfied and, inevitably, being happy to recommend that builder’s homes to friends.

Yet the numbers of complaints from buyers to the National House Building Council, which offers warranties on about 80% of new homes, tell a very different story.

In 2008/9, the latest full-year figures available, complaints topped 64,000 – slightly up on the previous year, despite a 40% slump in sales as the downturn was at full pelt.

In 2008/9 the NHBC also paid £59.3m in compensation to aggrieved buyers – five years earlier it was ‘only’ £34m.

And in 2008/9 the NHBC’s resolution service, which arbitrates between developers and buyers, found in favour of the buyer in 69% of cases.

It is to the house builders’ credit that they fund and usually comply with the NHBC at all. But the figures recorded by the NHBC strike a distinctly different note to the mood music which comes out of the builders’ marketing departments about ‘happy customers’.

Now those same builders will have to get the public on their side before, rather than after, a scheme is built, at least for those small below-20-unit sites proposed by Grant Shapps.

Can the builders do it?

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