Government report highlights “fundamental concerns” in housebuilding market

News / Wed 28th Feb 2024 at 08:07am

Photo by Brian Thomas Photography

THE Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published its final report on the housebuilding market in Great Britain – finding that the complex and unpredictable planning system, together with the limitations of speculative private development, is responsible for the persistent under delivery of new homes.

The study also found substantial concerns about estate management charges – with homeowners often facing high and unclear charges for the management of facilities such as roads, drainage, and green spaces. Concerns have been found, too, with the quality of some new housing after the number of owners reporting snagging issues increased over the last 10 years.

Sarah Cardell, Chief Executive of the CMA, said:

Housebuilding in Great Britain needs significant intervention so that enough good quality homes are delivered in the places that people need them.

Our report – which follows a year-long study – is recommending a streamlining of the planning system and increased consumer protections. If implemented, we would expect to see many more homes built each year, helping make homes more affordable. We would also expect to see fewer people paying estate management charges on new estates and the quality of new homes to increase. But even then, further action may be required to deliver the number of homes Great Britain needs in the places it needs them.

The CMA has also today opened a new investigation into the suspected sharing of commercially sensitive information by housebuilders which could be influencing the build-out of sites and the prices of new homes. While this issue is not one of the main drivers of the problems we’ve highlighted in our report, it is important we tackle anti-competitive behaviour if we find it.

Housebuilding in Great Britain

There are persistent shortfalls in the number of homes built across England, Scotland, and Wales, with less than 250,000 built last year across Great Britain – well below the 300,000-target for England alone.

The report identified a wide range of different types of housebuilders operating in the market:  around two-fifths of the homes built between 2021 to 2022 were delivered by the largest, national housebuilders while more than 50,000 homes were delivered by thousands of smaller, regional builders.

Around 60% of all houses built in 2021 to 2022 were delivered by speculative private development, which is when builders obtain land, secure planning permission, and construct homes without knowing in advance who will buy them or for how much. This way of building homes has given builders flexibility to respond to changes in the market. However, the country’s reliance on this model has seen the gap widen considerably between what the market will deliver and what communities need.

CMA Findings

The report found that this speculative approach to building, coupled with complex and unpredictable planning rules across the three nations, has been responsible for the persistent under delivery of homes:

  • Planning Rules: the planning systems in England, Scotland and Wales are producing unpredictable results and often take a protracted amount of time for builders to navigate before construction can start. The report highlights that many planning departments are under resourced, some do not have up to date local plans, and don’t have clear targets or strong incentives to deliver the numbers of homes needed in their area. They are also required to consult with a wide range of statutory stakeholders – these groups often holding up projects by submitting holding responses or late feedback to consultations on proposed developments.
  • Speculative Private Development: the report found another significant reason behind under delivery of homes are the limitations of private speculative development. The evidence shows that private developers produce houses at a rate at which they can be sold without needing to reduce their prices, rather than diversifying the types and numbers of homes they build to meet the needs of different communities (for example providing more affordable housing).
  • Land Banks: the CMA assessed over a million plots of land held by housebuilders and found the practice of banking land was more a symptom of the issues identified with the complex planning system and speculative private development, rather than it being a primary reason for the shortage of new homes.
  • Private Estate Management: the CMA found a growing trend by developers to build estates with privately managed public amenities – with 80% of new homes sold by the eleven biggest builders in 2021 to 2022 subject to estate management charges. These charges are often high and unclear to homeowners. Whilst the average charge was £350 – one-off, unplanned charges for significant repair work can cost thousands of pounds and cause considerable stress to homeowners. The report highlights concerns that many homeowners are unable to switch estate management providers, receive inadequate information upfront, have to deal with shoddy work or unsatisfactory maintenance, and face unclear administration or management charges which can often make up 50% or more of the total bill.
  • Quality: housebuilders don’t have strong incentives to compete on quality and consumers have unclear routes of redress. Analysis also suggests that a growing number of homeowners are reporting a higher number of snagging issues (at least 16). The CMA’s consumer research and other evidence revealed that a substantial minority also experienced particularly serious problems with their new homes, such as collapsing staircases and ceilings.

Information Sharing

The CMA found evidence during the study which indicated some housebuilders may be sharing commercially sensitive information with their competitors, which could be influencing the build-out of sites and the prices of new homes.  While the CMA does not consider such sharing of information to be one of the main factors in the persistent under-delivery of homes, the CMA is concerned that it may weaken competition in the market.

The CMA has therefore launched an investigation under the Competition Act 1998 into Barratt, Bellway, Berkeley, Bloor Homes, Persimmon, Redrow, Taylor Wimpey, and Vistry. The CMA has not reached any conclusions at this stage as to whether or not competition law has been infringed.

More information can be found via the CMA’s housebuilding investigation case page.

Next Steps

The CMA believes a substantial intervention in the housebuilding market is necessary to address the issues its market study has identified.

The CMA would like to see a housebuilding market that delivers:

  1. more homes overall, and particularly in the areas of highest demand, in turn reducing pressure on affordability;
  2. consistently better outcomes on new-build quality, with consumers having an effective route to redress; and
  3. reduced detriment to consumers arising from the private management of public amenities on new-build estates.

The CMA is making recommendations to governments in those areas where it sees opportunities to improve market outcomes without significant trade-offs with other policy objectives. These include:

  • requiring councils to adopt amenities on all new housing estates.
  • introducing enhanced consumer protections for homeowners on existing privately managed estates – including making it easier for homeowners to switch to a more competitive management company.
  • establishing a New Homes Ombudsman as soon as possible and setting a single mandatory consumer code so homeowners can better pursue homebuilders over any quality issues they face.

Given the wider policy trade-offs and complexities that are inherent in the design and operation of the planning system, the CMA does not consider it appropriate to make specific recommendations to governments in this report about how those trade-offs should be made. However, given the vital role that the planning systems play in shaping market outcomes, the report sets out proposed options for consideration. These include:

  • ensuring local authorities put in place local plans and are guided by clear, consistent targets that reflect the need for new homes in their area.
  • streamlining the planning systems to significantly increase the ability of housebuilders to begin work on new projects sooner – while not watering down protections such as for the local environment. Measures to improve the capacity of council planning departments would also enable them to process more applications.
  • introducing measures to increase the build-out of housing sites by incentivising builders to diversify the tenures and types of homes delivered.

While the recommendations and options above will significantly improve outcomes for homeowners and the housebuilding market, the evidence shows that the market may still not deliver the quantity of homes that meets Great Britain’s housing need.

It is open to policymakers to deliver change through more fundamental interventions, often with fiscal and policy implications, that go beyond the way in which the market itself works but would have a significant impact on the quality and affordability of new homes being built. While it is not for the CMA to offer recommendations or specific policy proposals in this space now, the report sets out areas of potential intervention.  

These interventions would include a significant increase in non-speculative house building that has previously been led by local councils and housing associations.

More information – including the full final report – can be found via the CMA’s housebuilding market study case page

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6 Comments for Government report highlights “fundamental concerns” in housebuilding market:

Guy Flegman
2024-02-28 12:29:06

I see they missed the big one in all this. The average age in the building trade is 50+ and more people are leaving the trade than joining every year, so who is going to build all these houses?

David Forman
2024-02-28 15:01:21

This report should be read in conjunction with economist Liam Halligan's book Home Truths. If you want a much shorter version, his evidence to a parliamentary select committee is a real eye opener. The root cause of housing supply problems is a Conservative Government in 1961 scrapping Clement Attlee's land compensation rules which then resulted in the escalating price of land for building homes. See it at: https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/2743/pdf/

Richard Adams
2024-02-28 16:04:01

This report confirms what we have been feeling in our bones that the housing market in England is broken. Although there is a place for speculative house building in the future I believe that the focus if house building should be on public sector housing at affordable rents. The next government no matter which colour when elected should consider bringing in special bodies tasked with, and with the powers to plan and build housing. The new towns were built by special corporations. It worked in the past why shouldn't it work again.

Nicholas Taylor
2024-02-28 18:50:00

Much of the findings of the CMA are what many people knew already, developers sitting on thousands of sites which already have planning permission but building at a trickle in order to keep increase house prices and profits for shareholders distribution. The housing market in this country is broken for a number of reasons. The wrong type of homes are being built, often in the wrong place, with profit being king rather than housing need. Nicholas Taylor, former housing manager and leader of Harlow Alliance.

Tony WIseman
2024-02-29 09:05:18

In all likelihood the CMA recommendations could have been carried out over the last 14 years by the Tories if only they had taken the housing issues seriously. No one believes that they have because they have had 15 housing ministers in that time! A housing minister should be appointed for the life of a parliament so that they can develop and plan a medium to long term plan and start to implement it.

Kim Oconnor
2024-02-29 09:50:31

Guy flegman, you are wrong. My father worked into his 70s, he and many helped build this town, with Sir Frederick's plan, I know brickie s now over 50 still working. Lots of things going wrong,because of no real training involved, you can't train a brickie in a few weeks, it's a life long trade, you never stop learning. Poor material's, thrown up, for a quick buck, not providing or meeting the needs of people, if people are leaving this trade its because there probably chucked in the deep end, or left to there own devices. You can't learn this trade in a couple of weeks.

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