Stewart Baseley’s Speech: HBF Annual Lunch 2012
Good afternoon and welcome to HBF’s Annual Lunch. As ever, it’s wonderful to see so many old friend and colleagues - and meet some new ones too.
It seems no time at all since we met here 12 months ago, a reflection of an extremely hectic year -probably the busiest I can recall since I became Chairman of HBF - and arguably the most important.
Whilst we concern ourselves with many issues at HBF the two that in my opinion represent the biggest constraints on our industry, and so where we have focussed, have been the problems with obtaining mortgage finance for anyone without access to a sizeable deposit and the consistent failure of the planning system to provide sufficient viable land to meet the country’s housing needs.
Our year has therefore been dominated by two key policy announcements that hopefully will go some way to addressing both these issues.
The November Housing Strategy saw the unveiling of Newbuy, the mortgage indemnity scheme designed to allow purchasers of new build homes to access 95% mortgages for the first time since the downturn began and lending criteria tightened.
It is something that HBF with CML had been discussing for many months and in the autumn the Government, who had taken a keen interest in our discussions, agreed to back the scheme. A relatively short time later it was the centrepiece of November’s Housing Strategy. Since then the days and weeks have been dominated by agreeing the details of a scheme of incredible complexity, as complex as anything I have ever been involved with. As I am sure you all know NewBuy was formally launched in March by the Prime Minister, just 16 weeks after it was announced. Without doubt this was a remarkable achievement made possible by the combined efforts of many people several of whom are here today – CML represented by Paul Smee and Jackie Bennet, CLG where the team was led by Terrie Alafat, JLT represented here by John Llyod and Steve Rance and not least our own John Stewart. And there are many many others that I don’t have time to individually name.
The work on NewBuy continues to be a major priority for all of us as we strive to extend it to as many house builders and lenders who wish to participate as we possibly can. This is a scheme that will run for the lifetime of this parliament and I truly believe it will deliver huge benefits for our industry.
Alongside NewBuy the most high profile debate was of course over the NPPF. What started with the publication of a draft for consultation, turned into a seriously acrimonious debate that hit every newspaper front page on a regular basis throughout the summer. During that intense period it sometimes seemed like HBF stood alone against a campaign waged by the might of the National Trust, CPRE and a range of other organisations.
A daily diet of negative headlines, particularly from the Daily Telegraph, screamed that the NPPF would lead to every blade of grass across the country being concreted over and turned what should have been a serious debate about the most important change to our planning system since the 1947 act into something quite farcical.
Fortunately Government largely saw through the scaremongering and whilst the final version published last month contained some climb downs, many of the vital constituents remain. It is fundamentally a pro growth document. Of course the real test remains the extent to which local authorities are prepared to embrace the NPPF and take control of properly planning for housing in their district and I do think that Government will have to monitor the effect of the Framework very closely.
But the last twelve months have not just been about NewBuy and the NPPF – as important as both these are. We have also seen positive announcements on FirstBuy and Get Britain Building, both of which saw significant funding allocations at a time when cuts were being made across the board; on section 106 agreements and on zero carbon – plus the publication of the Localism Act, the first New Homes Bonus payments to local authorities and the emergence of CIL charging schedules. As ever there has been plenty for us to get our teeth into and I suspect the next twelve months will be much the same!!
Now before I go, can I point you towards two pieces of literature that should be on your table.
One is this year’s Customer Satisfaction results. As you will see, they surpass even last year’s excellent outcome with 90% of the customers surveyed prepared to recommend their builder – a level that compares with the best in class in any other industry that I can find. I see many of the companies involved are using the results as a key part of their marketing strategy and quite rightly so, because to achieve such outstanding results takes commitment from the board room right the way through to to site and everyone involved should be justifiably proud of the achievement.
The other document concerns a campaign being run jointly by HBF and Habitat for Humanity, a charity which I have been associated with for many years and became Chairman of in January. Habitat, as many of you will know, looks to provide decent housing to those in need across the world. The campaign is actually the brainchild of my HBF Board colleague Mike Freshney who was inspired by the work of Habitat on a recent visit to Thailand.
Now believe it or not, each home costs about £1235 but will provide a life changing experience for a family somewhere and over the next 12 months or so we want to raise as much money as possible to build as many of these homes as we can for where they are most needed. So please see what you can do to help us achieve.
Ok, that really is enough from me. I am very pleased to hand over to Grant, who after nearly 5 years looking after housing, first as shadow and then for the past two years as housing minister, has a very deep understanding of the issues that matter to us and has been central to many of the policies I have mentioned today . I am delighted he has been able to join us once again so ladies and gentlemen please give a very warm welcome to the Rt Hon Grant Shapps