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Housing restarts in England as Scottish sites stay silent

Castlewell Ellon Barratt

Building new homes in Scotland will have to wait

Tens of thousands of builders, estate agents and removal firms will return to work in England today to get the housing sector back on track – while Scottish sites remain closed at least until the end of this month.

A Safe Working Charter similar to that in use on major construction sites has been agreed between the UK Government and the Home Builders Federation, enabling home builders, including thousands of self-employed tradesmen to return to work safely.

Westminster housing minister Robert Jenrick said: “This critical industry can now safely move forward, and those waiting patiently to move can now do so.”

Builders are able to determine flexible construction site working hours with local authorities to ease pressure on public transport.

Smaller house builders can defer payments to local councils to help with cash flow and developers can publicise planning applications through social media.

About 450,000 people are estimated to have had their moving plans put on hold during the crisis, with property website Zoopla suggesting £82bn worth of deals have been stalled.

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Buyers and renters can complete purchases and view properties in person, while visiting estate agents, developer sales offices or show homes will also be allowed – again only in England.

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, said: “Over the past week or so many house builders have commenced a gradual return to work, in a structured way that ensures the safety of its workforce and the general public.

“A resumption of work will play a major part in helping the economy recover as well as delivering the homes the country needs.

“It should also provide the supply chain with the confidence it needs to accelerate its own restart.”

In Scotland, only construction sites focused on “essential” work are able to open.

A resumption of work will play a major part in helping the economy recover as well as delivering the homes the country needs

– Stewart Baseley, Home Builders Federation

New proposals continue to be submitted, including a mixed-use development for 500 homes at Polmont, but these have to be considered in accordance with Scottish Government guidance. This has temporarily suspended public consultation events and replaced with live and interactive web-based consultation for major planning applications.

Garden centres, golf clubs, tennis courts and angling have also been given the green light to reopen in England.

People can leave their homes to collect goods ordered from businesses and travel to waste or recycling centres.

However, legal experts have pointed out that guidance to stop all non-essential building work in Scotland during coronavirus pandemic is not an outright ban.

Andrew Boccoli, who leads on advice to the construction sector at Scottish law firm Lindsays, has warned that property developers and their contractors could find themselves at legal loggerheads unless Scottish Government guidance and legislation on construction work during the coronavirus crisis is made clearer.

Building site

Building sites in Scotland will stay closed

Mr Boccoli says that guidance issued by the Government does not fall in line with what current legislation requires and, as such, is a root of the confusion within the industry.

Until recently, there was no legal requirement to either close construction sites or even implement social distancing policies within sites.

“That position has now changed with legislation requiring that all businesses take all reasonable steps to comply with social distancing criteria. That now includes construction sites.

“This means that, legally, any construction site can currently remain open so long as social distancing policies are followed.

“The legislation is, however, at odds with governmental guidance which states that sites on which ‘non-essential’ work is being undertaken should close and those covering ‘essential’ works should also close unless social distancing policies can be implemented.”

That gap between guidance and legislation is causing problems on the ground, he says.

“We are finding that on some projects there has been genuine disagreement between developers and contractors as to what contractors are entitled to claim for contractually given the divergence between the guidance and the legislation.

“Regardless of what the law requires – or rather does not require – many construction sites have already closed. That in part stems from a willingness within the industry to do what they consider to be the right thing.

“However, as commercial pressures mount on developers and contractors, if the government wants sites to remain closed they will have to do more than simply rely on industry goodwill and update legislation to fall in line with guidance or vice-versa.”

Housing leaders call for FM to signal return to work

Self-employed boost

Some relief will be offered across the UK with the early opening of the government scheme today to help those who run their own business.

Full details here

See also:

Dobbies HQ stays shut while its English stores re-open

Sunak extends furlough scheme to end of October

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