New report blames water companies for housebuilding shortage

Posted 14 March 2016 by Keith Osborne

The Housing and Finance Institute's research reveals a poor level of delivery of water and sewerage connections across the UK slowing down housing supply...

A new report from the Housing and Finance Institute says that delays in providing water and sewerage connections is a major factor in the shortfall of new homes being built across Britain.

The How to Build More Homes, Faster report goes on to suggest that the government should force water companies to act more quickly to provide connections on new developments, and that the Ofwat and Ofgem ombudsmen be merged to help ensure the water and power companies deliver better standards.

Research commissioned for the report found that only Dee Valley, operating in Cheshire and Wales, achieved 100% success in connecting new homes with water, and that all companies in England failed to meet their performance targets for connecting sewerage systems, with Welsh water the only company to deliver properly.

Affinity Water, which supplies in strong housebuilding regions of London, the South East and East Anglia, was found to be the worst-performing company, failing to meet 60% of its targets in the first quarter of 2015 and averaging a 40% failure rate in the first nine months of last year. South Staffordshire, Southern Water and Thames Water had failure rates of 20-25% in at least one quarter of 2015.

Natalie Elphicke, chief executive of the Housing and Finance Institute, says: “In industry discussions, water, electricity, gas, broadband and roads are most often cited as the practical barriers to speedy housing growth. There is land; there are planning permissions, there is appetite to do more. To get homes built faster requires better performance from utilities companies who are currently failing to deliver on the homes the country needs.

“There is mounting evidence that a continuing failure of performance of water companies is delaying housing growth. All but one water company failed to meet the agreed targets for connecting water and sewerage supplies. This dreadful performance by the water industry impacts on large and small builders alike. 

 “Given that there are so few utilities providers for water and electricity, there is a powerful case for a single utility regulator to drive more collaborative and planned local utilities provision and higher standards across all regulated entities.”

The Institute’s report also recommends that councils be given greater to force the release of disused public land for the building of new homes. Elphicke adds: “There are some sites that have been vacant for 10, 15 or 20 years or more and that are not being brought forward for building in a timely fashion. There are some sites which are permissioned for building with an acceptance that 25 years or more is an acceptable rate at which to build out a site. 

“Across the board we need to see more homes built, faster. So consideration should be given to beefing up the planning conditions imposed by councils to set agreements about the rate of building on sites. There should be new statutory powers for the secretary of state…to ‘step in’ to strategic sites which are not building out to the required rate.”


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