Restart And Renew – Housing Secretary Statement

Yesterday, the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, announced the restart of the property market, claiming it was an opportunity to ‘restart and renew’.

Amongst his comments, Mr Jenrick highlighted the importance of opening the market and ensuring buyers and sellers were motivated to complete transactions.

This seems to be the case according to Rightmove who have reported a huge surge in activity between 7am and 8am yesterday. Overall, this resulted in a 45 per cent increase in website activity during this time.

The portal also dealt with an influx of 2,115 new properties being added and email enquiries sent by estate agents rising by 70 per cent.

Jenrick also expressed a desire to get construction sites fully operational as soon as possible. The First Homes programme announced earlier in the year was heralded as important in offering opportunities for first time buyers and key workers and highlighted the importance of construction companies in delivering these homes.

The Housing Secretary also discussed his intention of encouraging the planning system to embrace new technology on a wider scale to reduce the reliance on face to face communication.

The full speech can be read below:

Earlier today in Parliament, I made a statement setting out our clear, coherent and comprehensive plan to restart, reopen and renew the housing market and our construction industry.

I’m sure that this will be of interest to many people at home who are hoping to move house, and I’d like to set out what this means in more detail.

From today anyone in England can move house if they follow new guidance we have published on gov.uk.

When the lockdown was announced in March, we changed the rules so that people could only move home if they thought it was “reasonably necessary”.

That meant that more than 450,000 buyers had to put their plans on hold.

And each month 300,000 tenancies come up for renewal as well.

A significant proportion of these will result in people needing to or wanting to move home. The pressure to move for some was becoming acute, with serious legal, financial and health implications.

During an already very difficult time, these people have been stuck in limbo. Now they can carry on with their house moves and add some certainty to their lives.

So, from today:

Estate agents’ offices can re-open;

Viewings – whether virtual or in person – are permitted;

Show homes can open;

And removal companies and the other essential parts of the sales and letting process are re-started with immediate effect.

For most people moving home is not a luxury. People decide to move home because their personal circumstances change.

The changes that I have announced today are happening safely in order to control the virus and to protect the public.

We have published very detailed guidance, informed by public health advice, to explain how this can be achieved, with all parties observing hygiene measures and social distancing guidelines.

People have asked why they would be able to look around a stranger’s house, but not visit their parents or loved ones at home.

Now I understand why that might seem confusing at first glance – especially when people have been separated from their loved ones for so long.

But our guidlines makes clear that in the first instance that viewings should happen virtually. When viewings do happen in person, we’ve set out a clear plan to ensure the safety of those already in the property intself, those considering moving in and the estate agents and lettings agents.

These requirements include:

Visits being by appointment only, open house viewings not taking place, and speculative viewings where buyers or tenants are not serious yet, are highly discouraged.

All parties following strict social distancing guidelines

All internal doors should be opened where possible

The current occupier vacating the property for the duration of the visit, going out for their daily exercise, going out to the shops or standing in the garden, if that is possible.

All involved in the process washing their hands upon entering the property. And, once the viewing has taken place, all surfaces in the property including the door handles, should be thoroughly cleaned.

There are of course exceptions. For those who are self-isolating or have coronavirus, they should not be moving or going back to work or allowing trades people or professionals into their home.

Where this is the case, all parties involved in house buying or selling should prioritise agreeing amicable sensible arrangements to change move dates for the individuals concerned. That has been happening across the country in recent weeks and it will need to continue.

We would also ask those who are clinically vulnerable and those who are shielding to consider very carefully their personal situation and to seek personal and specific medical advice before deciding whether to commit to or proceed with moving home.

If you are in this situation, and you decide that you must go ahead, all professionals involved must be made aware so that they can put in place any additional precautionary measures to provide further protection for your health and further legal protection to make sure the transaction goes as smoothly as can be expected.

A vibrant housing market means more than buying and selling homes. We need to get back to building again and Britain needs that.

It is something that this Government has always been committed to. Something that our ambitious First Homes programme will do later this year, with a 30% discount on new homes for key workers including nurses and teachers and police officers as well as local first time buyers.

We want them to be ready as soon as possible and that’s just one of the reasons I am keen to get construction up and running.

To help with this today I am announcing further steps to support safe house building by allowing more flexible working hours on construction sites, where it’s appropriate and with local consent.

I am allowing sites to apply to extend their working hours, again with immediate effect, to 9pm Monday to Saturday in residential areas and beyond that in on-residential areas and setting out a very clear Government position that these applications should be approved by local councils unless there are very compelling reasons why this is not appropriate.

Varied start and finish times will make it easier for sites to observe social distancing, take the pressure off public transport like the tube in London, and keep Britain building.

There are countless examples of the industry behaving responsibly and proactively during this pandemic.

I’d like to thank today Taylor Wimpey, who now have now got construction safely underway on the majority of their sites and have started removing staff from the furlough scheme and getting back to work on full pay.

They are offering a discount of 5% for NHS staff and care workers on new homes – a great way to recognise the contribution that our front line heroes are making to the country.

So thank you to them.

It’s also time that the planning system makes more use of digital technology to operate remotely and efficiently during this pandemic.

I am determined that the planning inspectorate be at the forefront of this work – I welcome the inspectorate now undertaking its first ever virtual hearings.

I am asking them to make all hearings virtual within weeks so that the planning system can resume and be made more permanently more accessible and user-friendly.

This is the most comprehensive restarting of an industry in the first phase of our roadmap with few if any transactions there is no visibility and no precedent with which to accurately judge the state of the housing market, but history tells us that in each economic recovery in modern British economic life the housing market has been key to recovery and revival.

As Housing Secretary, I will do everything I can to support the millions of people employed in the construction and the housing industries, to help their sector bounce back, while always prioritising their safety and wellbeing.

Almost 100 separate organisations have already signed up to the Charter for Safe Working Practice, pledging that they will share the responsibility to ensure that their sites operate safely and in accordance with Government advice.

I’d like to thank all of all of those who have signed and encourage the whole industry to join them.

Today we reopen, we restart and renew the housing market and construction industry to protect lives, to save jobs and to begin rebuilding our economy.

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