ADDRESSING the housing issues in the South East is vital to driving the region’s post-pandemic economic recovery, according to a panel of experts convened by Lloyds Banking Group.

This was the focus of The Big Conversation: Building the South East Back - Helping the Housing Market Recover, a virtual event held by Lloyds Banking Group as part of its UK-wide initiative The Big Conversation: Helping Britain Recover.

The discussion was chaired by Michelle Blayney, the Group’s ambassador for the South East, who said it was all about listening to stakeholders whose roles and insights would play an important role in charting a course for revival.

“We’re really committed to pushing forward Britain’s recovery. We recognise we haven’t got all the answers, so these events, where we’re able to gather views from a range of local stakeholders, are critical in giving us a national and regional view,” she said.

“A collaborative approach is helping us to understand exactly what the region needs to get back on its feet.

“We now have some conversation starters to take to government, with clear calls for measures to help combat housing affordability issues in the region. The pandemic has exacerbated the issue and it’s something we’re keen to put front and centre.”

The session heard that saving for the deposit on a home is three times harder today than it was in the mid-1980s, highlighting concerns around affordability. Michelle reiterated this point and stressed that there is no silver bullet.

She added: “When it comes to the issue of affordable housing – which is becoming more and more pressing for the South East region as one of the most expensive areas in the UK – there’s no one-size-fits all approach. A range of frameworks for councils, local authorities and developers to follow, so that they can adapt them and put housing plans in place that meet local demand, whether that’s more social housing or shared ownership homes.”

On the challenges facing first-time buyers, Michelle argued that the market needs to be more inclusive to cater for those that have previously been frozen out: “The first-time buyer market is experiencing its own unique set of challenges. Proposed models for shared ownership and government-backed mortgage guarantees would help to overcome them,” she said.

“We’re also confronted with the dilemma that demand will always appear to be buoyant, when supply is so limited – there’s clearly a mismatch here. We’re going to need to significantly speed up the planning process and turn what’s now a clunky, outdated system, into something that’s more streamlined, so that we can be in with a better chance of meeting housing delivery targets and, crucially, meeting demand.”

Michelle was particularly struck by a point made by fellow panellist Peter Truscott, the chief executive of Crest Nicholson, that it’s taking twice as long to push through planning permissions in contrast to 10 years ago.

On the issue of sustainability, which has formed such a big part of pandemic recovery, Michelle emphasised the need to retrofit existing housing to meet the UK’s climate change targets.

She said: “We’ve seen a plethora of organisations pledge renewed net-zero carbon targets since the pandemic outbreak, which is encouraging to see, but we also need to make sure housing is firmly rooted in the government’s sustainability drive. The Green Homes Grant has been extended for an extra year, which is one step in the right direction in helping to ensure a green recovery. It’s important households and tradespeople take advantage of this.”

Michelle also insisted on making concerted efforts to close the skills gap.

“The skills gap is something we’re familiar with across a number of industries, but never has it been more important in housing if we are serious about retro-fitting on a mass-scale. It has a colossal part to play in strengthening the South East’s recovery.

“Focused skills training in construction will help drive our commitment to boosting Britain’s recovery and in supporting the talent pipeline at a local level.”

Michelle said the she hopes the range of insights and ideas generated from The Big Conversation will show the appetite that exists around the country to work collaboratively to help Britain recover.

“Lloyds Banking Group is the UK’s largest retail bank and we’re very focused on our work in the regions. With the right services and proposals in place, we can be in the best position possible to support the government’s goals to build back better.”


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