Lords Select Committee: Short-sighted Government housing policy will not meet objectives

Posted on 19 Feb 2016 under Housing, Latest in Parliament

The House of Lords National Policy for the Built Environment Committee today asserts the importance of delivering a better built environment and criticises current government policy as unlikely to meet demand for either the quantity or quality of houses we need. The Committee is concerned about the quality of new developments, and about the risk of housing delivery being prioritised at the expense of other elements of the built environment.

Committee Chairman

Chairman of the Committee, Baroness O’Cathain said:

“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.

“The Government should review the National Planning Policy Framework to make sure developers aren’t using financial viability to play fast and loose with design quality and sustainability. If developers submit substandard plans local authorities should be able to ask them to think again without builders falling back on questionable viability assessments to get their way.

“We are also calling on the Government to appoint a Chief Built Environment Advisor to work across government departments to integrate planning policy and act as a champion for higher standards and good practice. It’s important that the Government sets a good example and leads from the front on design quality.

“Ensuring we have a better built environment in the coming decades is one of the key challenges facing government. It impacts on every area of our lives. The Government must now take that challenge seriously. We hope in responding to our report they will recognise that the drive for more homes must not come at the expense of quality. Everyone deserves a home but they also deserve a good quality home, in a good quality place, that meets their needs as individuals and families. We don’t think the Government’s policy as it stands will deliver that.”

Recommendations included in the report

  • The Government should reconsider the proposal to include ‘starter homes’ within the definition of affordable housing as starter homes cease to include any element of affordability after five years.
  • The Government should reconsider additional elements of the Housing and Planning Bill which would undermine the maintenance of mixed communities.
  • The Government should appoint a Chief Built Environment Advisor to champion higher standards in the built environment across government departments.
  • The Government should reverse its decision to do away with the zero carbon homes requirement and Code for Sustainable Homes.
  • We need a new strategy for managing our historic built environment that recognises that our historic built environment is a ‘unique national and local asset, central to place-making’ and a ‘cultural and economic asset rather than an obstacle to successful future developments’.
  • The Government should make design review mandatory for all major planning applications, in order to offset the long-term burdens and costs of poor quality design.
  • Local Authority planning departments need to be better resourced and the planning profession needs to rediscover the prestige it once had. The Committee calls for more bursaries for planning students, and a greater emphasis on ‘proactive planning’ from local authorities.