House of Lords committee scorns government housing policy for new homes

Posted 19 February 2016 by Keith Osborne

A new House of Lords report has criticised the government on a number of areas of policy regarding the quality and quantity of new homes...

The House of Lords Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment has today criticised current government policy on meeting thecountry’s demand for new homes and has asserted the importance of delivering a better built environment.

The committee, chaired by Baroness O’Cathain, was told that there is currently a need for 240,000 new homes a year in the UK and concluded that meeting this demand is not possible purely through private sector developers. It went on to say that local authorities and housing associations should be given a bigger role in housebuilding and recommended that the government should review borrowing restrictions on local authorities.

The committee has also voiced concern about the quality of new homes and considered that quality of the built environment as a whole would be compromised if the speed and quantity of building of new homes was given utmost priority, saying “speed need not come at the expense of quality, and a short-sighted approach runs the risk of repeating the mistakes of the past”.

It expresses concern that financial viability and easing of restrictions on converting offices to residential use might make local authorities unable to make a balanced judgement on planning approval, and recommends the appointment of a Chief Built Environment Advisor to integrate planning policy across multiple government departments and “act as a champion for higher standards and good practice”.

There is also a call on the government to revise the National Planning Policy Framework to reduce the unreasonable use of viability assessments by developers to avoid funding affordable housing and infrastructure.

This video shows discussing the report:

Baroness O’Cathain says: “It is increasingly clear that we need to build more houses in England and we wholeheartedly support that objective. However if we build those houses in the wrong place, to a poor standard, without the consent of local communities we are only storing up future misery for the people in those houses and others nearby.

"That is why we are recommending local authorities are once again empowered both to build new homes of their own, and to ensure all developments are of a suitably high quality. Spending a little bit extra on good quality design at the outset can avert massive costs to people, society and government in the long-run.”

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • The government reconsidering the proposal to include ‘starter homes’ within the definition of affordable housing because starter homes cease to include any element of affordability after five years.
  • The government should reverse its decision to remove its ‘zero-carbon homes’ requirement and Code for Sustainable Homes.
  • A new strategy for managing the UK’s historic built environment.
  • The Government should make design review mandatory for all major planning applications.
  • Local Authority planning departments need to be better resourced, with more bursaries for planning students, and a greater emphasis on ‘proactive planning’ from local authorities.
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