Let’s get Britain building… better, more efficient homes

Housing White Paper

The government has today (7th February 2017) introduced new plans to ‘fix the broken housing market’ and to build more homes across England.

A series of measures have been announced to get the right homes built in the right places, to speed up house building and to help diversify the market. However what is missing, are measures to ensure that the new homes that are built are built to a better quality, with higher levels of energy efficiency and with lower running costs.

There is a strong demand for new housing (and for more rental housing) and this is a strong push from government for builders to build. The proposals do include various measures that may help increase the supply and availability, but it is also important that the homes that are constructed (and also that those that are made available for rental) are better built to perform, with lower heat demands (lower carbon), lower operational costs for those who will live in them and that they are built for the future.

A zero carbon standard for new homes was supposed to have been implemented in 2016, but was dropped in an attempt to help increase the number of homes built. However in London where a zero carbon homes policy was retained as part of the London Plan, viability of sites does not seem to have been affected. Scrapping the zero carbon homes standard appears to have done little to help increase the numbers of new homes built, whilst keeping running costs and carbon emissions higher than they otherwise would have been.

Focusing on numbers of new homes built alone can be counterproductive. People want cheaper to run, warmer, healthier homes that are built in the right places, with proper consideration of the locale. They want aesthetically pleasing homes, with the required infrastructure to support them. Proper consideration is needed to build not just homes but developed neighbourhoods and communities.

House builders often blame the planning process, yet the latest figures don’t support that. Approval for 277,000 homes was given in the rolling year to 30 September 2016. Last year 190,000 new homes were completed according to today’s press release, which is an improvement on the 142,890 homes completed in the 12 months to December 2015. These figures are a step in the right direction for meeting targets, but this is still considerably fewer than the estimated 250,000 new homes needed per year to address housing demand. Planning permissions have more than matched the levels required, despite local authority departments struggling under reduced staffing levels from past spending cuts. However demand is still far outstripping supply.

One positive announcement from today is the shortening of timescales to require developers to start building, requiring new homes to be commenced within two years of getting planning permission, rather than three. The government also stated that it will require more transparency on the pace of delivery. This in theory “will help address the serious and growing gap between the number of planning permissions granted and the number of new homes completed”.

This doesn’t however address the loophole of “transitional arrangements”, whereby a builder can commence work on a single plot on a site, bank the whole site’s building regulations compliance and planning permission requirements and then subsequently putting a site on hold until market conditions are right to continue.

Whilst there is no doubt that more new homes and more rental properties are desperately needed. What is also needed is better quality, more efficient homes that won’t need retrofitting in future years to bring them up to standard.

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