The House of Lords Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment has asserted the importance of delivering a better built environment and criticised current government policy as unlikely to meet demand for either the quantity or quality of houses that need to be built.
The Committee was told that around 240,000 new houses are needed each year to meet existing demand; they conclude that it is not possible to meet this target through reliance on private sector developers alone. The Committee concludes that the Government will not succeed in building the houses the country needs unless local authorities and housing associations are allowed to play a bigger role in building.
The Committee is also extremely concerned about the quality of new developments, and the risk of housing delivery being prioritised at the expense of other elements of the built environment.
The Committee expresses concern that the focus on the speed and quantity of housing developments poses a threat to sustainable planning for the long-term, quality, design standards and place-making. The report states that the easing of restrictions on converting office property to residential use, combined with very strong emphasis on the financial viability of new developments, weakens the ability of local authorities to properly scrutinise planning proposals.
The Committee called 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.
Baroness O’Cathain, Chairman of the Committee, 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.
“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.”
RICS Head of Policy, Jeremy Blackburn has said: “Put simply, more needs to be done to tackle the housing crisis. We have worked alongside Baroness O’Cathain on the Select Committee’s review and wholeheartedly agree that the private sector alone cannot solve the problem. Affordable housing needs to be foremost in our thinking, and this is why RICS is calling for local authorities to donate land for community groups looking to deliver self-build projects. In other European countries, 50 per cent of new homes are self-build, and this could offer yet another means to get Britain building, and see more people housed.”
Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, commented: “Today’s report is right to highlight the need to future-proof the creation of new homes and communities, and to warn against taking a short-term approach to delivery. Although there is a pressing need to deliver new homes, this must not be done at the expense of quality and great placemaking. Policies such as the removal of the zero carbon target by the Government have been concerning, and it is of vital importance that we consider future generations when creating new places.
“It was perhaps an oversight that the report did not put more emphasis on build to rent, and the role it can play in supporting changing demographics and contributing to communities, but there was a lot to cover and the current inquiry by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee is focusing far more on the Private Rented Sector.”