Green Homes Grant scheme axed

The government has scrapped its flagship Green Homes Grant scheme just over six months after its launch. The decision to abandon the £1.5bn programme, the  centrepiece of Boris Johnson’s promise to “build back greener” from the Covid-19 pandemic, follows widespread criticism of the scheme, which offered householders grants of up to £10,000 to install insulation and low-carbon heating.

Approved applications for vouchers will be honoured, but the scheme will cease on Wednesday.

The decision leaves the government without a plan for tackling energy use in homes, which is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

Green campaigners said the scrapping of the programme, originally expected to create tens of thousands of jobs, came as a serious blow as the government prepares to host Cop26 in November.

Ed Matthew, campaigns director at the E3G thinktank, said: “The demise of the green homes grant is an embarrassment, and a disaster in terms of the UK getting on track to net zero [carbon emissions]. Emissions from buildings and transport have flatlined over the last 10 years. If we don’t have programmes to tackle this, we have no hope of meeting the net zero target.”

29 March 2021

Property sales predicted to be buoyant till June

UK residential transactions in February 2021 were almost 50 per cent higher than the previous year and 23 per cent higher than January 2021, according to the latest data released by HMRC.

The provisional seasonally adjusted estimate was 147,050 transactions — 48.5 per cent higher than February 2020. The non-seasonally adjusted figure was 122,840 — 48.3 per cent higher than February 2020 and 26.4 per cent higher than January 2021.

Paul Stockwell, chief commercial officer at Gatehouse Bank, said: “Property transactions show no signs of slowing down as sales, incentivised by the stamp duty discount, complete. The fact that hundreds of thousands of agreements are still working their way through the system means this pattern will continue for many months.

“Meanwhile, the easing of lockdown restrictions, the end of home-schooling and a sense of the beginning of a return to normality may encourage more people to put their homes on the market. There is also likely to be pent-up demand from buyers, just as we saw after the first lockdown last year, who have been waiting for the right homes to come up for sale.

“We expect the property market will remain a hive of activity, but anyone about to embark on a home purchase above £250,000 should now be budgeting to pay stamp duty as the industry is continuing to see a significant backlog of sales, and completions are still taking longer than usual.”

Forty per cent of properties that went onto the market in January were sold within 31 days, according to another set of data published by Andrews Property Group. 

The figure, the highest since pre-Covid, was most likely fuelled by buyers hoping to beat the stamp duty deadline, which has now been extended till June.

Sales data across Andrews’ 50 offices in the south of England, shows that buyer activity picked up in January and buyers were highly motivated to make offers and progress transactions.

Across 2020 as a whole, 27 per cent of all new listings went under offer within a month.

Andrews Property Group group chief executive David Westgate said market activity had been turbo-charged since the stamp duty holiday was extended in the March budget. “Properties are flying out the door and we fully expect the market to be buoyant all the way through to the end of June, when the £500,000 tax break is reduced to £250,000.” 

23 March 2021

Ambitious plans for Scotframe

Leading timber-frame manufacturer Scotframe has set up a dedicated self-build division which will be supported by new state-of-the-art showrooms as part of ambitious plans that reflect the company’s confidence in the growing self-build sector.

Olga Luengo-Gonzalez has been appointed sector director (Self Build), having spent 18 years with Scotframe's parent company, the Saint-Gobain Group. Based in Nottingham, she will be responsible for 30 Scotframe self-build specialists across the UK.

The Scottish company’s plans include creating new showroom facilities at its manufacturing centre at Cumbernauld, west of Glasgow, building a showhome in Chorley, Lancashire and creating a new self-build centre for the East Midlands.

“We are aiming to double our turnover in our self-build division in the next few years,” said Ms Luengo-Gonzalez. 

Scotframe has also appointed Greg Watson as technical manager and Justin Dumigan as quality and business controls manager, while Liz Watson becomes human resources manager following a year covering maternity leave. A further four roles are being created to offer customer support for design and architectural services and cost estimates.

Scotframe MD Ian Winroth said: “We see huge potential to grow our self-build operation, particularly south of the border. Scotland leads the way in timber-frame construction, with 83 per cent of new-build homes, compared to just 23 per cent in England. However, the market share for timber construction in England is rising and, with a dedicated end-to-end team in place, we are now well-positioned to support our growth plans.”

11 March 2021

Stamp duty holiday

The stamp duty holiday on house purchases has been extended till the end of June. Chancellor Rishi Sunak made the announcement in his March Budget.

The property purchase tax has been suspended on the first £500,000 of all house sales in England and Northern Ireland since July. When the stamp duty is reintroduced the nil rate band will be set at £250,000, double the £125,000 standard level, until the end of September. This is “to smooth the transition back to normal” from 1 October.

3 March 2021

Selfbuilders carrying on regardless

Confidence remains a key factor for the self-build sector which can affect not only the value of projects but also the types of construction and finishing materials used, according to the latest report by AMA Research. 

Whilst some potential selfbuilders may choose to defer projects until economic times are more certain, the self-funded selfbuilder is more than likely to continue with plans for their project regardless of the current economic uncertainty, AMA Research states.

The value of the self-build market is estimated to have fallen by 10 per cent in 2020 as a result of Covid-19, with an estimated 13,900 completions, totalling a market value of around £4.3bn.

AMA Research also reported a strong disconnect between where people want to self build and where there are plots. A relatively larger number of applications were made in the Home Counties and the South East compared to the numbers of available sites. 

In contrast, the biggest number of sites for selfbuilders are in the Highlands and Grampians of Scotland and the South West but these areas attract a relatively smaller number of applications.

Residential land values vary considerably across the UK and have become increasingly polarised between the very high levels in the South East and the rest of the UK. For the most part, variation in land costs is related to the availability of self-build plots within key areas. 

AMA Research predicted that the growth of the self-build market up till 2024 will be greatly affected by how long the Covid-19 pandemic lasts and how quickly the economy and the construction industry in particular recovers. 

Although the government has recently announced additional support for self-build, the issue of appropriate and sufficient finance remains a key factor determining the future value of the market.

28 February 2021

Cut VAT on home improvements, urges FMB

The FMB has urged the Chancellor to use the Budget to cut VAT on home improvements, to make it easier for households to get works done, including green upgrades. It is also calling for an extension of the stamp duty holiday to breathe new confidence into the housing market.

Data from the FMB’s latest State Of Trade Survey for November to December shows that one in four builders reported lower workloads in the fourth quarter, rising from 21 per cent on the previous quarter.

More than four in five builders reported a rise in material prices, yet only one in three are increasing their prices, taking the hit themselves.

One in four respondents reported problems trying to find carpenters, joiners and bricklayers.

25 February 2021