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UK house building continues to rise

With modern energy performance legislation being what it is, new-build homes in Britain need to be well-insulated. That means any increase in the number being built is good news for the insulation industry, as each new home means a new insulation fitting job.

Since the recession of 2008-09 and the consequent crash in the housing market, the numbers of new builds have been very low, falling to around 120,000 a year. This figure, the lowest since the 1920s, was seen by opposition politicians as a failure of government policy, while others simply attributed it to the inevitable consequences of a property market that had taken a massive hit. Moreover, with hundreds of thousands of construction workers leaving the sector not to return, building firms were always going to take time to recover their capacity to build more homes.  

Gradually, however, the situation has changed. The coalition government changed planning laws and introduced measures to get more empty homes back into use, brought in Help to Buy to get the wheels turning on the first-time buyer segment of the market, and the construction trend has been upward ever since.

New legislation has continued to come forth in the current parliament, from the council registers for those who want to build their own homes, through to the proposals contained in the white paper recently published by communities secretary Sajid Javid. With prime minister Theresa May using her first Conservative Party conference speech as the incumbent of Number 10 to pledge government intervention in the "dysfunctional" housing market, more measures may be on the way.

The latest figures suggest the government is having some success. The number of new homes started in 2016 was 153,370, up five per cent on the 140,500 begun in 2015. As well as this meaning 140,000 insulation fittings, that has also boosted the order books for firms providing waterproofing for showers, wetrooms and cellars.

While the tally of starts is now at its highest since 2007, these still remain below the government's target. Having pledged to build a million homes over the course of the parliament, the Conservatives have raised the annual figure from 200,00 to 250,000 in a bid to catch up.

Commenting on the latest figures, housing minister Gavin Barwell said: "We’ve got the country building again with the highest number of housing starts for nine years. However, we know there’s more to be done to build more homes in the places that people want to live.

"Our housing white paper sets out an ambitious set of proposals to deliver more land, speed up build out, diversify the housing market, and support people who need help now."

The biggest increases in housing starts in 2016 were in Manchester, which saw a 323 per cent rise, and the London borough of Islington, with a 296 per cent rise. This may reflect the recent trend for both these cities to witness some of the highest growth in population - a trend shown by the 2011 census when the two highest rates of population increase in England were in London boroughs - Tower Hamlets and Newham - and the greatest outside the capital was in Manchester.

Of course, if some places are seeing new starts treble but the overall increase is just five per cent, that suggests many areas are lagging behind or even seeing the number of new starts fall. In order to hit the wider target, the government may need to find ways to ensure parts of the country outside the more red-hot inner city markets are helped to grow faster.