UK property crisis as unsaleable houses pile up – 'We can't open sale offices'

Boris Johnson has urged workers to return to the building sites if they can operate under social distancing rules but bosses fear any new developments will remain unoccupied unless coronavirus measures are lifted. The construction sector is one of the first to get the green-light to get back to business after the lockdown ordered on March 23.

It’s all well and good building new homes but if you can’t sell them, there’s not much point

But UK housebuilders have said their is uncertainty about what to do with the new homes once the are completed and are urging the Government to issue clear guidelines.

David O’Leary, policy director at the Home Builders Federation, told the FT: “We can’t open sales offices for the time being.

“Government guidance is that people shouldn’t buy homes. It’s all well and good building new homes but if you can’t sell them, there’s not much point.

“Are you going to invest too heavily in stock for completion in October, November or December? I’m not sure.”

Building site

Building sites are gradually reopening (Image: PA)

Taylor Wimpey was the first major housebuilder to close its sites in response to coronavirus but began reopening them earlier this month.

Industry heavyweights Barratt and Persimmon have also been slowly returning to action after ordering workers to down tools in late March.

Their focus is to finish off any homes sold before the country went into lockdown but are wary of starting new projects before receiving reassurances they could be sold.

Stephen Teagle, chief executive of Vistry Partnerships and chairman of the Housing Forum, said: “There is a need for the Government to engage with the Council for Mortgage Lenders, with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and with the Law Society to make sure everyone is facilitating the ability of customers to purchase.”

READ MORE:Poll: Are you confused by Boris Johnson’s new lockdown restrictions?

Building sites

Most UK building sites were closed down in March (Image: PA)

Building sites

Housebuilders are calling for clarity from the Government (Image: PA)

The housing market was effectively suspended towards the end of March when measures to contain the spread of coronavirus were introduced.

Most developers sent their workers home after deciding it would be too dangerous for them to continue on the building sites but believe new procedures means it is now safe for them to return.

Some firms are introducing shift work and providing staff car parks so workers can avoid travelling on public transport.

Building sites

Construction firms fear a huge backlog of unsold houses (Image: PA)

Marc Vlessing, chief executive of affordable homes developer Pocket Living, said Government guidelines could only be issued when policies on public health became clearer.

He said: “What is it reasonable to ask your workforce to do, based on the evidence?

“Until we get answers to that, questions like ‘how do we get the valuation market going? How do we open building sites?’ those are secondary questions.”

Union leaders have attacked the Prime Minister’s speech about easing the lockdown, accusing him of sending mixed messages which could have “lethal” consequences.

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Unions have been urging the Government for weeks to make sure workplaces are safe, with plenty of personal protective equipment (PPE), before the lockdown is eased.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Boris Johnson’s statement will cause working people a lot of confusion and anxiety.

“The Government still hasn’t published guidance on how workers will be kept safe. So how can the Prime Minister – with 12 hours’ notice – tell people they should be going back to sites and factories? It’s a recipe for chaos.

“Unions want to support a safe return to work so we can start rebuilding Britain. Government must provide clear direction to workers and business by introducing tough new rules on workplace safety.”

Coronavirus cases

Coronavirus cases (Image: EXPRESS.CO.UK)

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said: “People cannot get to work safely unless there is safe transport for them to use.

“Yet there is now a real risk that in a few hours’ time, workers will be cramming onto public transport, putting at risk their lives and those of others.

“This has not been thought through and the failure to do so places working people in danger.”

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