Housing Standards Review – it all looked so simple
Blogger Rory Bergin on a simple plan going awry.
The Housing Standards Review, which aims to simplify the raft of building codes and standards that apply to housebuilders, is due to report back to the industry in March. But my guess is that at the moment the Department for Communities and Local Government is in a difficult position.
For a start, London probably doesn’t want to give up on its Housing Standards, having spent years and millions developing them. Who can blame them? So I am guessing that London wants to be an exception to the proposed dropping of the Code for Sustainable Homes, and any change to its powers as an authority.
This is likely to put DCLG in an awkward position, to put it mildly. Having proposed a raft of changes to the way housing is delivered across the UK, it now may end up having to restrict the changes to those parts of England outside of London. This highlights the fact that we have an increasingly two-tier economy – the south east and the rest. The economics of the south east means that there is little or no economic impact of any imposition of standards. The standards could be substantially higher and it still wouldn’t affect the business case for development.
For the midlands and the north, the case is very different. There are many sites that are still marginal and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Companies that bought land there at the height of the market are unlikely to make a good return on them any time soon. You could say that the problem of overpaying for land is a problem for the over-payers, and not for the rest of us. Isn’t that how the market is supposed to work? But at the same time, wherever there is a housing need, it is unfortunate that those who need good quality housing aren’t able to get it.
“My guess is that the DCLG has bitten off more than it can chew on this issue, and, having taken on swingeing cuts itself when the coalition came to power, it doesn’t have the capacity to deal with it.”
The position is the opposite in the south east. Values are rocketing in London in particular, and this is spreading to some unlikely areas of the capital, where developers are marketing their products to less than knowledgeable buyers in the Far East, who only need to hear the word “London” to open their cheque books. I hope those agents are quoting sensible rental income figures. (Who am I kidding?).
The other issue facing the Housing Standards Review is that many local authorities have recently rewritten their core strategies to cope with the changes in the National Planning Policy Framework. Having to change their core strategies to take on a further set of changes will be very expensive, right at a time when they are having to manage deep cuts to their budgets. How willing will they be to take this on?
It will be fascinating to see how this all works out in the end, but my guess is that the DCLG has bitten off more than it can chew on this issue, and, having taken on swingeing cuts itself when the coalition came to power, it doesn’t have the capacity to deal with it.
My prediction is that the Housing Standards Review will be a set of recommendations for further studies and reports and a promise to tackle it all if the Tories are elected for a second term. So now is the time for the industry to get together and tell the parties what they want to see in the next set of election manifestoes.
Meanwhile the Code for Sustainable Homes will become out of date from 1 April because it refers to 2010 Building Regulations (Part L 2013 will take effect on 1 April). What happens then? We need to know now, not after 1 April. We are all working on development projects that need to be planned years into the future, and at the moment, the Housing Standards Review is sowing uncertainty and confusion, which is exactly the opposite of what it was intended to achieve.
Rory Bergin is partner, sustainable futures, at architect HTA and a well-known industry commentator on sustainability issues. This article was originally posted here