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Housing minister: New homes ‘fall short’ on quality

14 December 2017

Alok Sharma: ‘We can build better homes’ (Flickr.com)

Housing minister Alok Sharma has admitted that too many new homes “fall short” on quality and design.

He was speaking in a debate at Westminster Hall, led by the chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on quality in the built environment, Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds Jo Churchill.

She had begun the session by stressing “the fact that there is so little consumer protection attached to the purchase of new homes needs addressing”.

Churchill referenced a recent report by the APPG which highlighted new home customer dissatisfaction, with 25% of buyers reporting 16 faults or more.

“While I appreciate that the House Builders Federation is looking into a voluntary code, there are problems with the industry policing itself. If there were any real intent, it would not have let the situation deteriorate as it has done, and for so long.”

Jo Churchill

Sharma said housebuilders needed “to ensure that they [new homes] are of good quality, well designed and respond positively to their local context”.

He added: “We believe that we can build not only more homes, but better homes. There are some great examples of housebuilders who are making quality and design a priority, but too many new homes still fall short.”

Churchill, who has been working with the Chartered Institute of Building on addressing quality concerns in the construction industry, criticised the lack of “transparency” in the housebuilding sector.

“While I appreciate that the House Builders Federation is looking into a voluntary code, there are problems with the industry policing itself,” she said. “If there were any real intent, it would not have let the situation deteriorate as it has done, and for so long.”

Churchill added that it was unacceptable that a small number of very profitable companies were responsible for over half of all housebuilding.

“For an industry that has overseen a substantial rise in profitability over recent years to oversee an equal decline in customer satisfaction ratings and a fall-off in skills training, for which it sees itself as only partially responsible, is unacceptable,” she said.

“Just 10 companies build half of new private homes. It used to be the case that 60% of new homes were built by small and medium-sized enterprises, often local, which had a vested interest in the build quality and were more conscious of the vernacular and the local environment – but currently, that figure is less than 30%.

“There is a feeling that large housebuilders are happy to trouser the profit and move on, and are not interested in the long-term reputation of their product. We might regularly replace our white goods; our homes we do not. They should be right the first time.”

Comments

This is an absolute scandalous situation which has been allowed to continue for far too long. The basic reasons for the problems are not to do with foreign or lack of unskilled tradesmen. It all comes down to a malaise of institutions & government & financial greed by CEO’s & profits for shareholders. Once we had responsible builders committed to building quality homes, but today we have builders only concerned for their shareholders & the size of their bonuses. Originally, also we relied to some extent on the Building Inspector & NHBC to pick up any build/quality problems, but today they appear to be ineffective in performing that role. Hence the house builder gets away with the minimal quality & maximum profit & purchasers are left with a defects battle with the builder, which they are ultimately unlikely to win, despite this being the largest & most important purchase of their lives! An utter disgrace, who’s in charge & where’s government action, you couldn’t make it up!

Richard Moore. MCIOB., 14 December 2017

Well said Jo Churchill.
Sadly, programme after programme on the tv has raised the subject of the abysmal quality of new homes in the UK. Yet there has been little action, other than house-builders hiding behind the old chestnut of the NHBC or similar insurance-backed profit centre.
Until house-builders are FORCED to directly employ key trades, nothing will change.
The government needs to police this and shut-down sites where there is just a nominal PM and QS representing the Builder.
Until then, nothing will change.
Let the fat cats enjoy their last few months licking the cream, then put a stop to this on April 6th. 2018.

david mccormick, 14 December 2017

Small and Medium size builders are being squeezed by lending and banking institutions as they constantly demand more return for their money. We don't having an housing crisis in this country we have a population crisis as more of the worlds population move to this tiny island. The natural circle of life has been interrupted by population explosion. Naturally the more people that come only makes the housing crisis worse. Developers are aware of this and purchase properties and rent them out at extortionate rates. Control immigration and you might be able to control our ability to afford homes and bring back the cycle of affordability.

Neal Dixon MCIOB, 15 December 2017

Building quality is low because land prices are too high. Land speculation directly restricts resources for the design and build processes. A completely 'free' marketplace does not lead to quality homes because the consumer lacks knowledge to be able to drive up quality. In the past we had relatively responsible government, a Building Research Establishment to serve people not large developers and maybe even a clerk of works to act on the behalf of consumers, sadly not now.
The thermal performance of a typical house built to Part L Building Regs does not equate to a SAP calculation often needing 2 to 3 times the predicted heating demand. A fabric first design methodology such as the well tested Passivhaus delivers what it says, and no it doesn't necessarily cost the earth. Responsible value engineering at early conception stage minimises uplift of cost and delivers highly comfortable houses loved by the occupant.

Bill Butcher, 15 December 2017

It just happens that I'm currently researching for my dissertation the issues surrounding the decline of quality within the industry, Although I agree in part with the comments already made, what I have found as the main cause is the principle of diminishing marginal productivity and diminishing returns on investment, which I am sure we are all aware is linked to the economy, that is down to the subjective political orientations of the government in office. I'm sure that if you actually look into who actually funds the political campaigns, you would find that the promises that are made to the backers by the UK government are not realistic for those working within the construction industry, i.e. the promises made by the government cannot be enacted by SME's/ etc..., and are therefore being squeezed and are unfortunately unable to compete with the larger companies.
Also in my own personal experience, I have witnessed on many sites that I have visited/worked on, the inspection processes used are extremely poor, which I feel is down too, dare I say a lack of cuts in challenging an embarrassing trend of a "that'll do" attitude towards quality standards, which my research suggests is predominately down to the speed at which the industry is having to build to comply with the industry strategies set by the UK government, is anyone seeing a re-occurring trend in the text above?.
The only way to improve quality is to put the necessary resources in place and apply tougher and more robust quality standards. Bring back the Clerk of Works, and make them a mandatory requirement on all construction sites during the progression of the development, but also with the authority to stop contractors and make them remove and replace any part of the development that does not achieve the required standards, only then will standards improve.

Paul Steels, 17 December 2017

This needs to be addressed. The first step needs to be that the main housebuilders alter the way they operate. The rush to complete units in June and December needs to be stopped.
A steady build through the year would allow contractors to programme resources where they are required. This would allow for a sensible build programme where there is quality and pride in what we as an industry are delivering - this has gone by the by.
We do need to see the return of the clerk of works to all projects, this needs to be pushed by the government - until we start to address these issues nothing will changed

Mark Swanborough, 18 December 2017

I am appalled by the constant programmes highlighting basic faults to homes that people have stretched themselves to buy. As a Chartered Surveyor, even my house had problems that the previous owner managed to rectify from the housebuilder, but only by using the correct terminology to get them out in the first place. The first step is to have the Government i.e BUILDING CONTROL come out when they can and sign-off each stage of construction. Why is the housebuilder in control of this when it can easily be manipulated so BC can miss these vital inspections, just so they can meet their profit margins. I am now in Norway and the standard of housing here is so high that looking back at the UK, appears to be a 2nd world standard of construction.

DJ BHULLER, 3 January 2018

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