BSA 2015: CEO calls for public building

Speaking at Harrogate’s International Centre for the BSA’s Annual Conference 2015, he welcomed members from the UK's 44 building societies, credit unions and regulators.

Fieth said: “The single most important thing for our new government is to set in train a cross party 15-year plan based on national and regional demographic changes, employment, environmental concerns, infrastructure and house price inflation.

“We need to build houses as well. Since 1946 the private sector has only twice succeeded in building more than 200,000 houses in England: in 1964 and 1968. In 2014 the total was less than 94,000.

“To meet its manifesto commitments the new government must ensure that local authorities and housing associations build as well, and build in real volume.

“And, as importantly, must replace homes sold from Right to Buy at a ratio of one to one.”

He said the BSA will go further with a programme designed to increase the availability of mortgage funding from building societies for homes built using modern construction methods.

He added: “This applies particularly to off-site modular construction, a method of building, currently niche, which is substantially quicker than standard brick and tile construction. It is not yet well understood by the lending community, a position we hope to change over the coming months.

"Many building societies already have good working relationships with local and regional builders and are the main suppliers of mortgage finance for self-build and custom-build across the UK."

Another theme from the opening address was lending into retirement, which he said is going to be a major theme for the whole financial sector going forward.

Fieth said: “Financing old age will, I believe, be one of the critical social issues for the remainder of the 21st century.

“This is an area which is for collaboration for us and the CML and other trade associations.

“We are well placed to take the lead in this area, making it clear that building societies have a desire to do even more for older borrowers.

“We already know that our sector is more flexible in this area than larger banks.”

Fieth also discussed “the tsunami of regulation”, as he called for regulators to encourage diversity by encouraging both the mutual and shareholder bank models.

He said: “Whether the new government takes up our proposal or not, we will actively be encouraging ministers, select committees and parliamentarians to question regulators closer about how they are supporting, facilitating and encouraging all ownership forms in banking and financial services.

“That might sound like a strange objective for a regulator. But we believe that is in their best interests too, helping them to avoid creating new concentrations of risk and new potential points of failure as they, rightly, continue their part in restoring confidence and trust across the whole sector.”

Referencing how Harrogate was said to be the happiest town in the UK in 2014 according to Rightmove, Fieth closed the opening address by saying: “I hope you all enjoy this year’s BSA conference and go away tomorrow afternoon with some new ideas, some fresh inspiration and, above all, leave the happy town of Harrogate with a spring in your step.”