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Government housing policy short sighted, say Lords

19 February 2016

The House of Lords Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment has criticised current government policy as unlikely to meet demand for either the quantity or quality of houses needed in the UK.

It has also recommended that the government appoint a chief built environment adviser, reverse its decision to do away with the zero carbon homes requirement and Code for Sustainable Homes and reconsider the proposal to include “starter homes” within the definition of affordable housing. 

Established last year, the House of Lords Built Environment Select Committee was formed to look at a range of planning and strategic issues on the built environment policy – and the effectiveness of the government’s response.

After carrying out interviews and research the committee has concluded that it is not possible to build the 240,000 new houses needed each year to meet existing demand through reliance on private sector developers alone.

To allow local authorities and housing associations to build more housing the committee recommend that the government review the borrowing restrictions on local authorities and review its own decision to reduce social rents.

Commenting on its findings and recommendations, Baroness O’Cathain, chairperson of the committee, said: “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.

The committee also recommended that the government should appoint a chief built environment adviser to champion higher standards in the built environment across government departments.

O’Cathain continued: “It’s important that the government sets a good example and leads from the front on design quality.”

Alongside O’Cathain (Conservative) the committee includes: Baroness Andrews (Labour); Lord Clement-Jones (Liberal Democrat); Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (Crossbench); Lord Freeman (Conservative); Lord Inglewood (Conservative); The Earl of Lytton (Crossbench); Baroness Parminter (Liberal Democrat); Baroness Rawlings (Conservative); Baroness Whitaker (Labour); Lord Woolmer of Leeds (Labour) and Baroness Young of Old Scone (Labour).

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