Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Persimmon Issues Confident Outlook

Leading home builder Persimmon PLC, today posted a positive, but cautious report for the first half of the year. Reflecting the slight recovery experienced in the wider housing market for this period, Persimmon released the following figures:

  • Legal completions grew by 16%, from 4,006 to 4,657 compared to the same period last year.
  • Turnover for the period increased by roughly 26% to £785 million
  • Sales increased by 20% (helped by ~8% rise in average house prices)
While these figures show a positive start to the year, they were tempered by news that the seasonal decline in private sale reservations was worsened by uncertainty surrounding the announcement of the Government's Budget proposals. Despite this Persimmon claims that sales have continued in line with expectation since the Budget's introduction. The full set of results will be released on 26th August, but already some have questioned the tone of Persimmon's release.

In an article for the Independent yesterday, property broker Investec, said "anecdotal evidence from unquoted industry sources "paints a markedly more downbeat picture of the market" than stock market announcements from quoted companies, adding: "In our view, management of the quoted companies sounds more nervous in tone in conversation than is immediately apparent in their published statements."

Fellow house builder Taylor Wimpey last week released its own update. While positive, the report was less bullish than that of Persimmon. It claims that figures are in line with market expectations, but citing the growing broader economic uncertainty, said it would remain cautious with the scale and pricing of its land buying for the foreseeable future. As such, the company's focus will be to achieve price improvement rather than increases in volume.

Another key player in the new homes market, Bovis Homes, will issue its own trading statement this Friday. Short of any major upsets, it is thought that it will report positive figures similar to that of Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey.  

Sources: RTT | Persimmon | Independent

Friday, 25 June 2010

Regen.net - "Shapps: HCA to escape axe"

A worried man? HCA chief executive Sir Bob Kerslake.

The following excerpts from Jamie Carpenter's, article for Regen.net, 25 June 2010, give more details about Grant Shapp's plans to streamline the HCA, and place it under local authority. 

Shapps said that the HCA will be "much leaner" and that he saw the agency’s future as an "enabling and investment body".
Shapps told delegates: "I can confirm that the HCA will stay. But I think it needs to operate in a genuinely local way – at the invitation of local people who want to improve their communities."
He added: "It will be smaller, more strategic – with the HCA’s functions being delivered under local leadership. It will be much leaner."
Shapp's announcement clearly shows that the HCA is in for a drastic upheaval,  supporting my earlier article, about the mounting issues awaiting the coalition's Big Society approach to planning and home building. 

(Jamie Carpenters full article can be found here.)

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Big Society - Big Risk?

New plans to give local people more power over the number of homes built in their area, are causing concern among housing experts. The news comes at a time when household formation outstrips house-building, increasing life expectancy, and people remaining single, are all causing demand for social and affordable properties to grow rapidly. Although some accept that action is required, there remain serious questions regarding the short term viability of the proposals.

Public funding for affordable and social housing severely cut.  

The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), which is tasked with channelling government money into social and regeneration projects, plays a vital role in keeping the housing industry ticking over. For instance, last year, almost three-quarters of housing projects started (64,800), were partially funded by the HCA. Already, cuts have seen the HCA's National Affordable Housing Programme's budget chopped by £230m, while the agency fears that another £610m will be lost from its budget this year. Compounding the issue, is a "three year spending review" of the HCA which due to commence shortly.

In funding housing developers to build affordable housing, the HCA has effectively propped up the industry. Councils, housing associations and private builders will be hard pushed to meet the required levels without this assistance. For instance, The National Housing Federation has already warned Housing Minister Grant Shapps, that the cuts could well see building rates drop by as mush as 65% to 1990 levels.

In light of this, it seems unrealistic to expect housing levels to increase, however that is exactly what the coalition government is hoping the private sector will facilitate.

Housing targets have dropped nationally.

Another element of contention, is the scrapping of house completion targets. The targets, which have been used to assess progress since the late 1950s, are to be replaced by councils deciding for themselves the level of building required in their areas. In essence councils will assume responsibility for setting out localised planning regimes.

However, the government's insistence on placing the burden of delivering the levels of housing needed, on councils raises serious questions. Many councils have seen their budgets slashed, either as the result of failed investments (Iceland anyone?), or as a consequence of Osborne's razor sharp budget. Adding to the conundrum, many authorities have insufficient planning capacity and knowledge to meet the rapidly growing demand.

Perhaps most worrying, is the omittance of a transitionary period for councils to adapt to the changes. The government's desire to abdicate its responsibility, to an unproven planning system is clearly an example of it's Big Society strategy, but this high-risk strategy comes at a time when the industry is still suffering one of the deepest crises in memory.

In summary, with a staggering housing shortage already affecting house prices and builders heavily reliant on state assistance, a delay in increasing production will undoubtedly exacerbate the situation further.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Council of Mortgage Lenders: Mortgage lending up 7%

Amongst all the doom and gloom surrounding the housing market, it's a welcome change to come across a positive news story!
The Council of Mortgage Lenders today issued a press release, showing a considerable increase in gross mortgage lending in the UK. Their figures show a 7% increase for the month of May compared to April, and 10% compared to May of last year.

According to the CML, the mortgage market remains subdued, with turnover marginally below the figures seen at the end of 2009, and gross lending slightly under the CML's forecast of £150 billion for 2010.

CML economist Paul Samter commented: "The ground has been cleared for next week's budget to be the start of an austerity drive to get the public finances onto a more sustainable footing. We do not expect it to include housing and mortgage specific direct tax measures. But the market will inevitably be affected by how policy impacts on the wider economy - particularly on household finances and confidence,".

Should the mortgage market stagnate and lending levels decline sharply, it will be interesting to see which tools the BoE employs from its array of newly gained powers, to regulate and possibly ration the mortgage market.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

"Google goes house-hunting"

Unabashed by recent controversy surrounding the amount of information it stores, Google yesterday unveiled its new property listing service. Adding a house-hunting function to Google Maps UK, it provides all the vital housing-hunting information such as statistics on rooms, distances to amenities, price and location.

The service allows users to select a location and view available properties in that area. Indicated by small circles on the map, properties can then be sorted by price, features and type of property. The feature works in tandem with Google Street View, giving house-hunters the ability to gain a sense of perspective on properties. 

Signifying their serious commitment to the move, Google launched the service with a number of high profile UK partners. Among them are Countrywide, the UK's largest estate agent, Sotherby's Inernational and Spicer and Harrt.  However, one notable absentee form the service is Rightmove, the UK's largest property portal. Unlike Rightmove, Google does not charge agents to appear online. Rather, it intends to generate revenue solely from advertising.

Perhaps the most interesting element of Google's new offering is the inclusion of private sellers. Although a number of small niche services offering this feature exist, Google Property is by far the largest player to date. With the likes of Spicer and Harrt and Tesco offering online estate agency, the trend of property sales moving away from traditional high-street estate agents appears to be growing.

George Osborne outlines plans to hand Bank of England new powers

In his first Mansion House speech, George Osborne outlined plans to give The Bank of England (BoE) far reaching new powers over Britain's financial system. In particular, the BoE will given the responsibility of overseeing the health of the housing market. Citing the easy availability of credit, 100%+ mortgages and low interest rates as key factors behind unsustainable house price increases, the chancellor of the exchequer argued that the BoE's new toolkit will enable it to avoid another housing bubble.

The BoE's new powers will also extend to curbing risky banking practices. This may well constrain the amounts which banks are able to loan to homebuyers, effectively allowing banks to place a cap on the amount homebuyers would be able to borrow. Full details of the new powers are to be unveiled in the emergency budget on the Tuesday 22nd June.

Sources: Channel 4 News | The Guardian

On a separate note - a big hello to newhomesinbirmingham a Birmingham-centric blog featuring all the latest news about housing developments in Birmingham.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

New Home Prices See Growth In April

Department of Communities and Local Government House Price Index: 

According to the Department of Communities and Local Government's latest House Price Index, annual average house prices paid for new properties in April 2010 were 7.6 per cent higher than a year ago. This is a sizeable increase from the 1.3% increase seen in March. 

In the month to April, there was an increase of 5.6% in the price paid for new properties, a significant increase compared to April 2009 which saw a rise of 0.6%. Meanwhile the annual house price growth rate for pre-owned dwellings remained the same at 10.3 per cent in April, compared to March.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Shortage of Affordable Homes/ Worldwide Property Group: Buyers Still Confident

A new report from The National Housing Federation (NHF) has suggested that the number of affordable homes being built this year could decline by as much 65%.

Changes to the planning system combined with funding cuts could result in as few as 21,000 homes being built. Housing Minister Grant Shapps, warned last week that up to 150 social housing projects were in danger, due to a £610m "black hole" in the government's finances.

In light of their findings, the NHF has contacted housing Minister Grant Shapps to urge the government to honour its spending commitments on new housing developments. The NHF's chief executive David Orr, warned: "The building of affordable homes could potentially grind to a halt this year - with all housebuilding, including private developer construction, falling off a cliff."

However, Shapps responded: "Houses cannot be built by targets that don't work with money that doesn't exist." Instead, he argued that the government is planning to create incentives for new developments, while as part of the Big Society vision, communities would be able to "develop their own vision" for what building would benefit their local area most.

Housebuilders, in both the private and public sectors, have suffered badly during the property market's recession lead slump. The last three years have seen a steady decline in the numbers of homes being built, especially in high demand areas such as London and the South. A preference over the last five years for building flats and apartments, more suited to by-to-let investments rather than new home owners, has further worsened the situation.

Despite the seemingly constant stream of gloom and doom, a new report from Worldwide Property Group, claims that buyer confidence remains high. In the May survey, 84% of respondents felt that the current time was a great time to buy property in the UK, whilst 68% felt that now is also a good time to consider overseas property purchases, with 53% considering purchasing a foreign property. Areas favoured by those looking to buy abroad include the US, Caribbean, Turkey and Spain.  

Interestingly, only 6% said that they expect the UK house prices to fall in the next year, with 61% saying that they were buoyed by historically low interest rates and 49% citing low rates as their motivation to buy UK property.

Given last weeks mixed figures from the various House Price Indices, with one actually showing a slight fall in house prices, and the continuing fall in the strength of the pound, it would be interesting to see if the Worldwide Property Group survey returns similar results this month!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Low Carbon Building Programme (LCBP) Closed To New Applicants

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has announced that it will be closing the  Low Carbon Building Programme, to new applicants. Introduced by the labour government, to date the programme has provided over 20,000 grants, with over half going to applicants seeking to install Microgeneration equipment. 

Citing government cuts of £6 billion to departmental spending over the next year, as the reason behind the move, The Department of Energy and Climate Change has reassured members that outstanding agreements will be honoured.
Meanwhile, it is hoped that £3 million will be saved by immediately closing the programme to new applicants, with further savings being achieved over the course of the year by cutting or slowing down planned expenditure.

Given the challenging and costly agenda of developing renewable heat and decarbonising the heating sector,  the cuts are a serious blow to advocates of green technology.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Useful Online Tools for Home Buyers

Whether you are moving to a new home or looking to buy a second home, choosing the ideal location can be an overwhelming task. Fortunately, with the advent of "media rich" websites, house hunters have a wealth of tools at there disposal to make the job less stressful. This post will cover some of the key tools available for house hunting online.

When starting out it's key to remember that one of the most important factors determining a home's value, is the area it's in. Building a profile of the area, based on social and economical indicators, makes it easier to identify suitable neighbourhoods. Indicators include crime rates, school performance, and the provision of amenities and transport links. Additional aspects to check include school catchment areas and flood planes. For example, even if your offspring are outside of school age, its a no-brainer to check where school catchment areas cover, as they typically push prices up. The following sites help users to gain a perspective of possible areas, using a variety of approaches.

1) The Land Registry

Aside from publishing a monthly average house price index (HPI), The Land Registry (TLR) also issues information on singular sales. Completion figures for all properties sold in England and Wales since January 1995 are available here. Got your eye on a specific property and want to know how much it last sold for, and the extent to which the area's been affected by the recession? The Land Registry has the details!

Alternatively, sites such as nethouseprices.com and ourproperty.co.uk offer a free basic price search function!

2) Oneplace.gov

The Government owned Oneplace site compiles information on crime, education, the environment, health and housing in individual assessments of 152 areas across England. Information gathered by six different inspectorates, is used to rate various indicators for each area on a performance scale of 1 to 4. It's a useful service if you want to compare your current area with surrounding areas or the national average.

3) Environment Agency Information

As mentioned above, it's a good idea to check if an area is vulnerable to any environmental factors. Handily, the Environment Agency provides maps indicating areas at risk of flooding, as well as a number of other maps illustrating local environmental factors such as landfill locations and pollution rates.

4) Google Street View

Arguably the most innovative and indispensable tool available to house hunters is Google's Street View. Offering a 360-degree navigable mosaic, Street View enables you to see a location as if you are there in person. Originally launched in March 2009, as of March 2010 Google Street View covers the majority of the UK from Shetland to Penzance.

5) Housing Portals
Once you've identified a possible area,  housing portals such as Newhomesforsale.co.uk are a good next step. Offering details of existing and upcoming properties as well as contact details for developers and estate agents, property portals are now a  key resource when house hunting. Some sites now also offer mobile phone applications for searching properties on the go.

The tools mentioned above are not an exhaustive list, but an introduction as to what's available online. Whilst there is no substitute for sampling your chosen area in person, these tools make drawing up a short list all that much easier.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

HIP's demise the leading cause for a surge in instructions?

Update 03/06/10: Following on from the Telegraph articles (see two posts below) purporting to show 30% increases in houses going to market as a result of HIP's being removed, it seemed prudent to examine other factors contributing to the aforementioned increase.

Firstly, Nationwide's chief economist, Martin Gahbauer has suggested one possible reason. He cites that a looming increase in Capital Gains Tax, has urged many to push for a quick sale to avoid any possible additional cost. Supporting his assertion, this article from the Guardian, published one day before HIP's demise, points to estate agents reporting a deluge of inquiries from landlords about the possibility of selling before the CGT rise is introduced. The proposed CGT increase would far outweigh the money saved by not having to produce a HIP, suggesting it may be a more influential factor, than has been widely acknowledged.

Furthermore, The Bank of England yesterday asserted that mortgage lending increased month on month by £0.5bn in April. This is a sizeable increase compared to the March rise of £0.2bn. Increased availability of mortgages, is likely another factor behind the increase in instructions.

Whilst the removal of HIP's may well have encouraged some to enter the housing market, as shown above there were other contributing factors, which arguably were more influential.

Disparity in UK house price figures from Nationwide, Halifax and The Land Registry

The guardian has collated figures released by the big three providers of Average House Price Indexes. Presented in an interactive graph, covering from Mar 2006 to the present day, it illustrates the variance in figures released by Halifax/Nationwide/The Land Registry.

The graph is updated with each new release of figures, and is often annotated with feature articles, helping to provide perspective on the numbers. For instance, Nationwide's latest figures suggest that Property market's gradual recovery have pushed prices to within 10% below of those prior to the recession.

The disparity between the figures is due to the differing methods used to compile the indexes. Whilst the Halifax and Nationwide calculate their figures based on properties they have agreed mortgages on, the Land Registry index is instead based on all completed sales for that time period.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Post HIP-fallout summary

Thirteen days ago, the Lib-Dem Conservative Coalition culled the HIP industry overnight. Thus far, the response from from estate agents has been overwhelmingly positive, with many citing a surge in the number of houses going to market. However, the ten thousand or so workers directly involved in the HIP industry have been left facing bleak and uncertain futures. Below is a brief selection of articles covering varying viewpoints of the fallout.

HIPs are history, but does that help the housing market?
An insightful article featured by My Introducer. It contends that the initial boost gained from the removal of HIP's may be short-lived, as structural, deep-rooted problems still affect the housing market's recovery.

Housing market benefits from scrapping of Hips
Nine days after the abolishment of HIP's, this article from the Telegraph details Countrywide Estate Agent's claim that they have seen a 34% rise in the number of instructions. Is this increase a post-election pick-up or all down to HIP's demise?

Given that Energy Performance Certificates will remain, many HIP's providers might be considering taking up roles as Domestic Energy Assessors (DEAs). Concerned by the likelihood of increased competition, this article from the Institute of Domestic Energy Assessors urges anyone considering training as a DEA to think again.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

HIP's are History - Long Live EPC's!

The government today announced that it is suspending Home Information Pack's (HIPs) for homes sellers with immediate effect.

“Mr Pickles today laid an Order suspending HIPs with immediate effect, pending primary legislation for a permanent abolition. The Secretary of State has taken this swift action in order to avoid uncertainty and prevent a slump in an already fragile housing market. Today’s announcement sends a clear message of encouragement to people thinking of selling their home that they can put it on the market with less cost and hassle.” Source: Communities.gov.uk

Delivered by Labour housing minister Ruth Kelly, in 2007, HIPs were intended to streamline the house selling process, by requiring sellers to provide conveyancing information when properties are first put up for sale. Paid for by sellers, they contain property information, title deeds and local searches.

However, from the off, the packs drew criticism. Some have suggested that they lack vital elements, such as structural surveys. Meanwhile estate agents, and industry figureheads such as Kirstie Allsop, have cited the £100-£400 upfront fee as deterring house sellers from testing the market, and in effect, contributing to the stagnation of the housing market. Seemingly, many are painting HIPs as a scapegoat for the market's woes. Whether their claims are verifiable, remains to be seen, especially given number of factors contributing to the volatility of the housing market over the last three yeas.

Whilst today's news has been warmly received in some quarters of the housing industry, many in the HIP industry feel that little thought has been given to their livelihoods and clients.

The move was not unexpected, as both the Lib Dems and Conservatives have made no secret of their opposition to HIPs. However, what has surprised many in the HIP industry, is the speed with which the suspension will come into affect. Homes Minister Grant Shapps, had previously promised a 100 day consultation period to decide the future of HIPs. This would have given the HIP industry time to wind down or adjust the focus of their operations.

The eradication of HIPs, could see the first major job loses under the new coalition government. The Association of Home Information Pack Providers (AHIPP) suggests that between 3,000 and 10,000 livelihoods are either directly or indirectly dependent on HIPs.

Paul Sailes of HIP-Consulant.co.uk, has contributed an industry insider's view of today's announcement:

It is sad day for both HIP providers and the home buying and selling process. The HIP gave a great vehicle to deliver upfront information about the property marketed for sale. Of course, it had areas which could have been improved, what doesn’t. It would not have been hard to amend if the various parties shared the desire to do so. It is a sad reflection on our property market that various groups facilitated targeted campaigns aimed at the HIPs demise rather than utilising their efforts to help improve the HIP and reform our antiquated home buying and selling process.

Unfortunately, I believe the Home Information Pack will go down in history as a failure due to actions of those with vested interests; that also includes those who were consistently pro-HIPs. The home buying and selling process requires reform and still does, never more so than yesterday if it is intended we revert back to pre-HIP days. HIPs were a good first step towards the ultimate goal of successful reform. I see no winners from the actions taken by the government today and it worth sparing a thought for those businesses, jobs and families who will be directly affected due to no fault of their own and will undoubtedly suffer.

The future for HIP providers?

One element of HIPs, the Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) will remain. EPCs grade a home's energy efficiency on a scale of A-G ratings. Costing considerably less than HIPs, at around £60, the seller will be required to supply one within 28 days of putting the house on the market. Sources have suggested that EPC's will remain valid for up to 10 years. However, questions have already been raised about the quality and scope of EPC's. Whether EPCs can absorb the fallout from the HIP industry remains to be seen. What is certain is that the original need for a full report, which would produce a fairer market, free from gazumping and gazundering remains.

Update: 21/05/10 Today Countrywide has announced that it is to reimburses clients for HIPs. Could this be another thorn in HIP provider's sides, as clients call for refunds for an effectively defunct product?

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Barratt to deliver the UK's first Code for Sustainable Homes Level 6 houses!

Good news for those in the market for an affordable, attractive and energy efficient home. Towards the end of this year, UK home builder, Barratt Homes will be offering the first Code for Sustainable Homes* Level 6 rated sustainable houses to enter the mass market.

This news follows the agreement last summer of contractual commitments between Barratt Developments PLC, the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and South Gloucestershire Council.

After 2 years of testing at it’s prototype Green House site, Barrat began large scale construction of its eco-friendly designs at Hanham Hall near Bristol, in November of last year. Upon their completion, Barratt intends to gradually pass down these eco innovations, to the rest of its product range.

Fortunately, many of the improvements being implemented can easily be applied to existing housing stock. In recognition of the innovative nature of the development, the government has provided an additional £0.8m funding, so that the on-site biomass CHP plant's heat network can be expanded. Originally designed to provide energy to the development's 195 homes; it is hoped that the CHP which utilises renewable fuel to generate relatively clean energy will also be able to supply on-site amenities.

In order to fully satisfy the requirements of the Code for Sustainable Homes Level 6, attention is also being paid to external factors. For instance, it is hoped that the provision of gardens and greenhouses, will encourage residents to produce more of their own food. Similarly, the provision of pedestrian routes to nearby amenities are aimed at reducing reliance on motor transport.

Current government targets require that all homes built from 2016 onwards, meet Level 6 of the Code for Sustainable Homes. Although many specialists and self builds' have already attained this level, Barratt aims to be the first mainstream developer to offer "zero carbon" homes to the public on a wide scale. Given the bleak economic climate, reaching this milestone, marks real progress by the private housing industry in meeting sustainable targets.

Public Sector Update

The public sector has also been making advancements in delivering sustainably housing. For instance, North Kesteven Council in Waddington, Lincolnshire is drawing close to completing it's first batch of Code for Sustainable Level 4 homes. The homes have drawn attention from the media, for their use of renewable resources such as straw (see above) to provide thermal insulation whilst also reducing their overall carbon footprint.

In a speech earlier this month, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, David Orr summarised the public housing sector's commitment to sustainability. Orr revealed that whilst 92% of housing association new homes are already achieving minimum standards set for CO2 emissions, only 2% of new homes built by private developers are meeting comparative targets.

If Orr's figures are reliable, then they cast doubt over the present commitment of private developers' to meet Government targets for 2013 and 2016. However, housing news portal 24dash.com reports that a Department for Communities and Local Government spokeswoman defended private builders, saying: "The fact is that all homes will be required to be zero carbon by 2016 and we are introducing legally binding regulations on the private sector.”

She added: "Over 150 organisations, including house-builders, have now put their names to the 2016 Commitment to work together to build 240,000 new zero carbon homes a year within a decade. It's ambitious, but it can and will be done."

With an election hanging overhead, it will be interesting to see whether this issue receives any attention in the ensuing campaigns. That said, regardless of which party takes office, the long-term challenges posed by a rapidly growing population, the implementation of tough environmental targets and funding cuts will have to be addressed if the UK is to maintain upwards standards of living.


* The Code for Sustainable Homes estimates a new home’s ecological impact, against nine measures of sustainable design. Categories include energy & water consumption, carbon dioxide emissions as well as consideration for the house's impact on the surrounding environment.

Barratt Homes at NewHomesForSale

Friday, 26 March 2010

Structural Design Codes Overhauled - New EU Legislation

Arguably, one of the most important changes in recent history to construction standards comes into effect on 31 March 2010. The introduction "Eurocodes" will see The British Standards Institution (BSI) withdraw 54 British Standards for the design of buildings and civil engineering structures. Detailed overviews of the codes can be found in the sources section at the bottom of this article.

The Eurocodes will form a suite of unilateral European standards which cover the fundamentals of structural design. Included within the codes, are specific guidelines for the design of aluminum and masonry structures, concrete, composite steel and concrete, steel, timber, actions on structures, the design of structures to withstand earthquakes and geotechnical design. Consequently, these codes will have an immediate and far reaching effects on the UK construction industry.

Many leading engineers view them as the most technologically advanced standards in the world, which will provide a set of principles which offer far more versatility than previous standards. Their implementation across the European Union, will deliver a unified approach to design, whilst at the same time, will also accommodate the application of country specific construction requirements such as earthquake resistance, and climatic variations such as wind loads. Furthermore, many hope that Eurocodes will also catalyse easier access to the construction market.

In the UK, Eurocodes will be incorporated into Public Contracts Regulations, which currently determine the necessary standards for public buildings and structural projects. Many analysts have voiced concern over the delay in amending the Building Regulations Approved Document A, which will not include reference to the Eurocodes until 2013. However, the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has addressed the matter in a circular letter issued to Building Control Offices, in which it stated that "we would not expect this rescheduling [of the Building Regulations Approved Document A] to affect or deter the take up of the new national standards" (i.e. the Eurocodes).

Mike Low, Director, BSI Standards commented on the impending change: "The Eurocodes have evolved over 20 years, and because British engineers and BSI have played a key role in their development, I am confident that they will both strengthen the professions in the industry as well as our delivery of quality construction. Eurocodes will also provide an excellent foundation for developing international leadership here in the UK in creating the Smart & Sustainable Built Environment."

The BSI, along with affilliate key professional and trade associations, is organising a range of activities and events to smooth out the transition from the old British Standards to the new Eurocodes. Further details, including FAQs on the transition, are available from www.eurocodes.co.u, www.bsigroup.com/eurocodes and www.eurocodes.jrc.ec.europa.eu/.


Highways Agency's involvement in the implementation of Eurocodes: Link | eurocode-resources.com: Link | Decoding the Eurocodes: Link | Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) - Implementation of Structural Eurocodes in the UK: PDF

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

£83 million for Phase 2 of Kickstart Housing Regeneration Poject

Housing Minister John Healey, has announced that £83 million of recently secured funding will enable work to restart on the construction of over 5,500 new homes, which had previously been stalled by the recession.

The Department for Communities and Local Government announced the initial batch of funding allocations for the next round of its Kickstart programme. This will allow work on previosuly mothballed key projects to recommence. This is a positive sign of recovery for builders and planner alike.

Details of the 87 projects have been uploaded to Bing mapping service (free). This provides an rough guide of the location and a brief snippet about the individual projects. This is all set out onto an interactive map (click here).

A map of the first round of allocations from Kickstart is also available here.

The West Midlands, has done particularly well, and 16 schemes will receive funding, making it the region with the greatest number of successful projects. Conversely, in the North-East, only two schemes will receive funding from Kickstart’s second round, making it the region with the least successful projects.

Elsewhere, housebuilder Morris Homes will receive £768,000 of funding to build 69 homes on a former college site near to Pride Park football ground in Derby. Meanwhile, Housebuilder Barratt, will receive £1.1 million of funding to build 50 affordable homes in Stockton-on-Tees.

Whilst the provision of funding is undoubtedly a positive sign, which should go some way to correcting the imbalance between supply and demand, it remains to be seen whether the Kickstart initiative can learn from the first phase's failings.

Last year it was reported almost half of the housing schemes which received funding in the first round of the Kickstart scheme had previously been rated "poor" by design watchdog the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.

HCA's review of Kickstart round 1 - PDF (75 KB)

A summary of approved schemes by region - PDF (62 KB)

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Pay As You Save - Eco Loans

Government plans for "green loans" to help home owners make their homes more energy efficient by installing technology such as insulation and solar panels were announced by the Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband.

The Warm Homes, Greener Homes scheme will see the loans tied to the house where the eco-measures are applied, so they can be repaid over a long enough period that the savings on energy costs outweigh the payback instalments.

The "Pay As You Save" (catchy?!) programme aims to ease people past the financial barriers - such as high upfront costs - faced by people trying to make their homes energy efficient and more greener.

It forms a key part of the government's strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions from housing by 29% by 2020. With around a quarter of UK emissions originating from energy used in homes, this is a crucial target. The Government says, that the scheme will also reduce energy bills for householders and boost jobs.

Some 65,000 jobs could be supported by the green homes industry by 2020, ranging from skilled installation and manufacturing of technology including small scale renewables, to providing advice on home and business energy strategies. In the short term, householders should see reduced energy bills. Installation measures such as solid wall insulation, may net energy cost savings in the region of £380 a year!

The strategy will be implemented in three stages:
  • To insulate 6 million homes by the end of 2011
  • To have insulated all practical lofts and cavity walls by 2015
  • To have offered up to 7 million eco-upgrades by 2020
A campaign promoting the use of Energy Performance Certificates, will encourage home owners to add value to their homes, by installing energy efficient adjustments and improvements. Home-owners will even be able to undertake a "virtual green makeover" on their properties online before committing.

To promote the scheme at the local level, an additional £2.5 million will go to establishing a network of lived-in green show homes across the UK, to demonstrate to people what a refurbished home is like, and what technologies are available to improve houses.

Ed Miliband said: "The Warm Homes, Greener Homes strategy will remove the deterrent of upfront costs and reduce the hassle of moving to greener living."

"Making homes more energy-efficient will help protect people from upward pressure on bills, tackle climate change and make us less reliant on imported energy."

"New 'pay as you save' green finance, a new alliance between energy companies and local authorities to help people in their communities, as well as moves to encourage landlords to stop ignoring energy wastage in their properties, will help deliver the radical transformation that's necessary."

A cynical observer might view this initiative as simply more electioneering, in the run up to the general election. Another dampener on proceedings is the context in which this announcement is made; the UK economy is in a dire state, and thus the task of persuading home owners to take out yet more debt is an incredibly difficult prospect.

Useful Links:

Department of Energy and Climate Change (Docs: 1 | 2 )

The Guardian - Are we really going to let ourselves be duped into this solar panel rip-off?
The Independent - Government plans 'green loans' to make homes more efficient

Persimmon sees signs of improvement

Persimmon back in black

Persimmon, the housebuilder, reported a return to full-year pre-tax profit, helped by a one-off gain from the revaluation of its land values.

Persimmon, the UK's largest housebuilder by market value, plans to create 90 new sites after trading conditions showed further signs of improvement. Some of the sites will be facilitated by Government grant funding for affordable homes.

Persimmon reported a 7% rise in sales since the beginning of 2010 and said the sales rate per site was up by a fifth due to the company operating from fewer locations than a year earlier.

Annual sales fell to £1.42bn in 2009, compared with £1.76bn a year earlier.

However, the company generated a pre-tax profit of £77.7m, compared with a £780m loss in 2008, thanks in large part to a write-up of £74.8m based on a re-evaluation of the value of its land assets.

The company, which is one of the less indebted UK housebuilders, generated £356.8m of free cash flow in 2009, compared with £239.2m in the previous year.

This helped it to reduce net borrowings from £600.7m in 2008 to £267.5m last year, easily within the company’s debt facilities of £1bn, arranged in March last year.

Persimmon also opened 90 new sites during the year, leaving it with land holdings of 60,454 plots at the end of 2009, which according to current build rates should provide six years’ supply.

John White, chairman, said: “Our cash generation and cost control have placed the business in a strong position both operationally and financially for a recovering market.

“Prices have held firm since the beginning of the year and we remain focused on improving our operating margins and to profitably grow the business.”

However, the company added: "It is too early to make a precise forecast about the housing market, particularly in an election year, and we will remain cautious in our investment decisions."

The company reiterated its previous announcement that it does not intend to pay a dividend for 2009, following its strategy of conserving cash in the business to strengthen the balance sheet.

Persimmon shares, which have risen more than 18 per cent in the last year, rose 6.9p or 1.7 per cent in early trading on Tuesday to 407½p.


Monday, 1 March 2010

David Cameron unveils new planning paper

A week ago, the Conservative Party finally published their long-awaited planning green paper. The paper proposes an overhaul of current regional spatial strategies, with the removal of the regional tier of planning, by instead transferring the responsibility of setting housebuilding goals to local authorities. Another key proposal of the paper is to give "third parties" such as residents, the ability to challenge planning decisions. This gesture appears to be a development of the Tory pledge to return "power to the people of Britain.

However, this concept of "third party appeals" drew criticism from the British Property Federation. Allowing residents to appeal against planning permissions won by developers, would seriously hamper the system by allowing all manner of appeals, the BPF says. These concerns were echoed by by Michael Gallimore, Partner and Head of Planning at Lovells, "developers will be extremely wary of the potential delays which could occur to schemes where third parties have a right of appeal."

Perhaps the most damming critique came from Matt Thomson, of The Royal Town Planning Institute, "such radical changes to the planning system could lead to a period of uncertainty, resulting in serious consequences for the provision of housing, employment and key infrastructure, and may even go as far as to impact the overall economic recovery".

One positive suggestion that caught my eye, was the introduction of a presumption in favour of sustainable development. This is a positive incentive to encourage the building more sustainable housing.

In summary, these plans would have major ramifications for the building of new homes. In a period when new homes construction has plummeted, and the building industry in general has been brought to it's knees, are unproven systematic changes to key legislation a the answer?

Friday, 26 February 2010

House prices take a fall in the winter snow during February

According to figures released today by Nationwide, the price of a typical UK property fell by a 1% month-on-month in February. This ends the nine month run of gradual increases in house prices.

Commenting on these figures, Martin Gahbauer, Nationwide's Chief Economist, said:

“The price of a typical UK property fell by a seasonally adjusted 1.0% month-on-month (m/m) in February, ending a strong run of nine consecutive monthly increases. The relatively smoother three month on three month rate of inflation remained positive at +1.6%, though this is down from +2.0% in January and a peak of +3.7% in September 2009. The annual rate of price inflation still managed to increase from 8.6% to 9.2% year-on-year, as this month’s fall was smaller than the 1.5% m/m decline recorded in February 2009. The average price of a typical property sold in the UK during February was £161,320."

Key Points:

•Property prices fell by 1.0% month-on-month in February
•The decline could be explained by the expiry of stamp duty holiday and snowy weather
•An increase in the number of properties available for sale has helped to reduce slightly the
imbalance between supply and demand
•Too early to determine whether February’s figures represent the start of a new trend

Source: Nationwide House Price Index

For more information on the house prices, the index methodology, and time series data and archives of housing research see Nationwide

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Housebuilder Barratt Upbeat About 2010

Over the last three years, housing developers have been bit by a multitude of setbacks. Sharp declines in the value of owned land, decreased numbers of house buyers coupled with increasing material costs, have seen many smaller developers fall by the wayside. However, as the signs of recovery start to appear, the larger, more robust developers are left in a stronger position than ever.

One such developer, Barratt Homes, has just posted reports showing reduced losses for the second half of last year. Indicating a change in fortunes, the developer has issued an upbeat forecast for the next six months.

BBC News 24/02/2010
The company made a pre-tax loss of £178.4m, £129.9m of which related to finance costs, compared with a loss of £594.5m a year earlier.

The builder said it had 27% more orders on its books than this time last year.

"We are expecting to see significant improvements in operating margins in the second half," it added.

Total home completions for the six months to the end of 2009 were 5,053, compared with 6,905 in the same period in 2008.

Revenue came in at £872.4m, compared with £1.26bn a year earlier.

"During the period, the recovery of the UK new housing market continued in terms of customer demand and pricing, albeit mortgage availability remained restricted, particularly in the higher loan to value segment," said Mark Clare, Barratt's chief executive.

He added that the company would continue to invest in new sites and so would not be paying an interim dividend.

Keith Bowman, at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said: "Barratt has been removed from the critical list.

"Forward sales are rebounding, losses have begun to narrow, whilst the company - like rivals - has begun buying what it hopes will prove to be bargain priced land plots".

The upbeat message from Barratt was in contrast to that from builders' merchant Travis Perkins, which reported an 11% drop in profits in 2009 and warned of continued "fragile" trading activity.

Positive news from a major player, such as Barratt will hopefully inspire confidence across the market.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Skape 3D Aerial Viewer Tool

As mentioned in my first post, I aim to use a variety of sources and tools to detail developments across the UK. One such tool, Skape 3D mapping, caught my attention. This post may be bordering on being a blatant advertisement, but I think this tool holds true potential for planners (and those who are simply interested in having a nose around).

Skape is one of the first 3D mapping tools designed with architects, local authorities planners and surveyors, in mind. Similar to Google Street View, but with the unique aerial views of highly realistic 3D environments, and a level of detail than that surpasses that offered by Google maps.

Currently it only features detailed 3D coverage of major UK cities including central London, Birmingham, Brighton, Bournemouth, Leicester, Nottingham, Southampton, Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle. However, the developers aim to have covered Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Cardiff and Edinburgh by the end of 2010.

First impressions suggest that it could be a useful tool to accompany other visual based GIS tools. Take a look now here.

Monday, 22 February 2010

New Swindon (Part 1)

The first area covered by New Property UK is Swindon, Wiltshire (map). This town offers a great case study of an area featuring a number new housing developments, combined with a major redevelopment scheme in the town centre. Designated as one of the Government’s Strategically Significant Towns, developers have been assigned growth targets of a staggering 35,000 new homes complimented by an additional 32,000 jobs over the next 20 years. The first stages of this wholesale regeneration of the town centre have already begun, and new housing developments have already come into fruition.

Ideally located on the M4 corridor, Swindon has much to offer those looking for a new home. The town itself has solid economic and communication infrastructures, and is currently undergoing a period of economic renaissance.

As part of the New Swindon £1 billion regeneration scheme, a mixture of retail, commerce and residential developments are to be created. A key aim of which, is to transform the town into a major residential and business hub for the region, whilst ensuring Swindon's rich heritage and character remain intact. Areas such as Union Square, form a flagship examples of this process.

Offering a high quality of living, great transport links, low living costs, and surrounded by stunning countryside, it's not hard to see why Swindon has attracted the interest of several major housing developers. One such developer, Taylor Wimpey, has recognised Swindon's potential, and is offering a wide range of homes throughout the town and surrounding villages.

Located on the southern outskirts of the Swindon conurbation, the Royal Mead development, offers 1 Bedroom Apartments, alongside 3 and 4 Bedroom Townhouses.

Not far from the traditional market town atmosphere of the Old Town, with its picturesque gardens, welcoming bars and restaurants, and within close reach of the town centre and major transport links, this development offers all the advantages of urban living.

Why not take a look for yourself via the NewHomesForSale property portal.

Keep tuned for further updates regarding developments in the Swindon area.

In later posts, I hope to be featuring interviews with Swindon residents, designers, planners and architects, detailing their hopes, aspirations and concerns regarding Swindon's rapidly transforming centre.

Welcome to the New Property UK Blog

Hello, and welcome to New Property UK. I'm a 20-something, recent geography graduate with a keen interest in regeneration and redevelopment schemes throughout the UK. Over the coming months, I aim to utilise a variety of sources to analyse and provide coverage of development and regeneration schemes across the UK.

At the time of writing, the economy is in a state of flux. Whilst certain indicators suggest that a fragile recovery has started, it still remains to be seen whether we've reached the true depth of the recession. In light of this, the present time represents an interesting time to examine the state of development and regeneration around the UK.

As some of you may be aware, the government has set a target to build three million new homes by 2020. This initiative is combined with a series of localised regeneration and redevelopment schemes targeting towns throughout England. However, due the recent economic turmoil, house builder's have delayed and even shelved some new developments, meanwhile decreased availability of mortgages has further hindered home buyers. In turn, these factors have been further compounded by a sharp fall in house and land prices.

That said, it's not all gloom and doom! According to leading property analysts the the tide has begun to turn, and the new developments are starting to appear.

Over the coming months, this blog will feature some of the newest and most exciting property developments in the UK. Featuring a mix of residential and commercial developments, if there's a particular example that you know of, or would like to see covered, I'd love to hear from you.