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Keeping new homes on track in a new normal world

6 minute read
Posted: 12th May 2020

It’s the eighth week of Lockdown and considering that it’s a relatively short period of time, what a massive shift there has been in both our personal and work lives! So, what has been the impact on our ambition to continue to develop new homes?

The initial three week period was very strange as all the ‘normal’ things in life stopped suddenly and during this time, I’m sure like many of you, I was trying to adapt to these changes, not quite sure how I should react and questioning if I was doing the right thing!

new home at Bower Brook Gardens development in Widnes

Contractors at our Bower Brook Gardens development on Warrington Road in Widnes remained on site to work on some properties that were close to hand over, ensuring social distancing rules were complied with.

The immediate impact….

Just like in our personal lives, businesses found themselves in the same situation, with the same uncertainties. Our first and correct reaction was to put a hold on any new expenditure, including entering any new development contracts, until we had time to review threats and risks to our ability to deliver our services.

In addition, the contractors developing our two existing development sites, found that due to a number of issues including the supply chain, they were unable to continue. One contractor totally closed the site, while the other partly closed the site, taking the decision to continue to work on some properties that were close to completion, ensuring social distancing rules were complied with……in hindsight, maybe they may have foreseen the future!! Since lockdown, we have therefore been able to take the handover of a further 12 homes.

The wider impact…..

As we headed into the second three-week lockdown period, things started to settle down as we began to understand the impact on our business. Though what was difficult, was to understand the impact of other sectors on us, particularly construction and the housing market.

As time has gone on, without change to the lockdown requirements, we have started to see people looking to push the boundaries on what can be done. For example, within the estate agency sector, some agents are starting to do viewings, as they feel they can comply with social distancing, while others have not, as they don’t see this as essential need! Many are offering virtual viewings of properties; this is likely to continue long after lockdown restrictions have been lifted.

As social distancing becomes the new ‘norm’…….

For me, the big ‘light bulb’ moment was when the government started to indicate that even when lockdown restrictions are eased, social distancing was here to stay and would be the ‘new normal’ we all had to accept for many months to come. This made all businesses think not only about when to remobilise, but how to ensure the safety of their staff.

As seen in the press over the last few weeks, the house building construction industry is now gearing back up to restart, with many targeting May, sites across the country. Things will not be the same. How these sites are managed will be very different from the way people enter and leave the site, how they undertake their work, have meetings, use the welfare facilities and even the use of toilets….all these will have to be changed and monitored.

However, the full impact on the length of time and the costs of delivering schemes are still yet to be fully understood. It will only be as we go ‘live’ on sites over the coming months that we will start to understand the true impact. What is clear, is that all parties need to support each other and wherever possible, avoid conflict. We will learn quicker and better, if we learn together!

So, from Halton Housing’s point of view, we are expecting to see our two existing sites recommence sometime in May.  We have started to release the hold placed on new investment and are now starting to programme in the recommencement of other sites over the coming months.

And looking to the future…

I still feel that there will be a good demand for affordable housing i.e. Affordable Rent, Shared Ownership, etc.

What will have a possible negative impact on affordable sale tenures such as Shared Ownership, would be lenders placing restrictions on their products and a drop in house prices. At present, lenders are coming back into the marketplace and are looking at ways they can work with social distancing.

As for house prices, it is too early to be able to say. I do think it is likely that we will see prices not increasing and, in some areas, reducing for the short term. How quickly prices bounce back in the medium to long term will all depend greatly on how quickly the economy takes to recover.

Going forward there are some interesting debates about the future of our housing stock. Although we all hope that the COVID-19 pandemic is a once in a lifetime event, we do need to think about what lessons we have learnt, in case there was another event like this!

I’m not going as far as some who have suggested that high rise apartments blocks should be abandoned in favour of houses, as this will solve one issue but could cause many others. There is much to be learnt about the management of such buildings. The need for the inclusion of a greater amount of green spaces and private open spaces in high density areas, the provision of a home working space within every home and providing genuinely good space standards for all homes, are some of the key debates to be had and some of these are long overdue!

We are starting to understand how the world we live and work in, has changed and will remained changed for months, possibly even years to come. And although we may not have all the answers as to how we will do things differently, the processes are currently being reviewed.

Will we get it right first time? …..probably not! But by working and supporting each other, we’ll get it sorted.

Written By

Paul Mullane

Director of Development & Growth
Paul Mullane Halton Housing Director of Development

Paul looks after the development of new homes, delivering our ambitious plan to build and acquire 1,000 new homes covering a whole market housing offer.

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