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Reaction: More Homes, Better Homes gets taskforce backing

Government housing taskforce’s von Bradsky pledges to ‘review and consider’ results of AJ campaign to boost building, as industry leaders tell us what they want from the overhaul, reports Richard Waite

A key member of the panel charged with overhauling the ‘complex and confusing’ homebuilding standards has said he will take on board findings from the AJ’s new housing campaign.

PRP chair Andy von Bradsky (above) told the AJ he would ‘review and consider’ the outcomes of the AJ’s More Homes, Better Homes campaign, launched last week in response to the government’s review of ‘anti-growth’ Building Regulations.

Announced last Thursday (1 Nov), von Bradsky is one of four experts on the Challenge Panel alongside City of London surveyor David Clements, planning specialist Paul Watson, and developer Kirk Archibald. The panel will look at simplifying ‘the mass of rules’ imposed on developers and von Bradsky has pledged to protect design quality as part of the drive to create a ‘simple housing standard’.

He said: ‘[This] standard should uphold or improve the quality of housing and it will contest proposals that undermine the delivery of high quality places, buildings and living conditions.’

Meanwhile the government minister leading the review, Don Foster insisted that, contrary to some initial fears, essential safety and accessibility protections wouldremain untouched in the shake-up of the building regulations.

However he said that he remained intent on cutting ‘the current array of housing standards used in different parts of the country,’ describing it as ‘counter-productive and confusing to local residents, councillors anddevelopers’.

The AJ will continue to publish the industry’s reactions and thoughts on the housing debate.

To contribute to the debate, visit TheAJ.co.uk/Homes or email news editor Richard Waite at richard.waite@emap.com

 Views from the industry on the housing standards shake-up

Andrew Matthews of Proctor and Matthews

Andrew Matthews, director of Proctor and Matthews:

It’s not true that building regulations, in particular those around energy performance and sustainability, are holding back the housing market.

It’s worrying that the government is looking in the wrong direction

But it is true that they pose challenges to housebuilders. In a way, that is what they are there for, if the objective is to reduce the carbon output from housing stock. Challenges are not necessarily obstacles. The better housebuilders have good strategies in place to address the Code for Sustainable Homes and meet thermal building regulations, and while the regulations remain to encourage other housebuilders to follow suit, it’s no bad thing.

A conversation could, however, be had about regulating for design quality where there has been a lack of joined-up thinking between Lifetime Homes and space standards. Here, regulations are a pretty blunt instrument that don’t necessarily produce the desired effect. For instance, an unfortunate side-effect of Lifetime Homes requirements for generous circulation areas is to squeeze space elsewhere, often resulting in smaller living areas or bedrooms. This means developers can then fall foul of space standards regulations.

The biggest problem for the industry is finance, particularly the shortage of mortgages. Buyers are struggling to raise deposits, while developers are having to go to extraordinary lengths to assist people with their finances.

Housebuilders say that planning and Building Regulations aren’t the problem: it’s simple common sense that they shouldn’t be starting schemes that are otherwise ready to go unless there are people out there who can buy.

It’s uncertain whether it’s a case of simply waiting until the clouds pass, or whether more economic intervention and stimulus by the government is required to kickstart house building. What’s clear is that regulations aren’t the problem and it’s worrying that the government is looking in the wrong direction.

Chris Brown of Igloo

Chris Brown, chief executive of Igloo Regeneration:

Neither planning regulations nor the Building Regulations are currently reducing the number of homes being built so the government review is a ‘nice-to-have’ not a ‘must-have’.

There is a degree of political positioning, as there has been with much of the debate around planning. These standards also have very little impact on design quality in its widest sense. Despite the regulations, there are still shockingly badly designed houses being built. The government could do much to incentivise the industry to achieve better design standards, which would then reduce the community opposition to new badly designed housing and help increase housing supply.

However, the last housing minister was against national design standards, despite being told that scrapping national standards would be difficult for larger builders because they would then have to deal with multiple local standards. Some of the leading industry players quite like Building for Life, for example, because it is simple and they can use it as a tool within their organisations.

There are some challenges in the regulations. Fire regulations have made it more difficult to have mixed-use buildings with efficient cores in the UK compared with many other countries. In the future, zero carbon, which we need to achieve, is a viability challenge for 2016 and the incremental increases in building regulations are a challenge for the very small builders.

There’s the ridiculous situation where builders tape over trickle vents to pass airtightness tests

Even larger builders are struggling to adapt their designs to the new, higher levels of airtightness and we have seen a number of instances where overheating has been a problem. There is also the ridiculous situation where builders tape over trickle vents in order to pass airtightness tests (and often know which properties will be ‘randomly’ selected for testing).

The standards review should also consider the Dutch Custom Build model. The Dutch have more detailed building regulations than we do but that also allows them to have much simpler planning regulations. There is much to commend this approach and it would not require a change in the law, just a change in planning practice with outline planning setting parameters and reserved matters permission being a 24 hour turnaround compliance check. This would remove the tendency for some planners to seek to impose their design preferences, but it could only be used in particular situations like Custom Build where you could trust the builder (owner) to seek high quality design.

Baerbel Schuett of Londonewcastle

Baerbel Schuett, development director at Londonewcastle:

The Building Regulations have only a very small impact on whether or not a project gets realised andbuilt. Yes, there are potential capital cost burdens arising through ever-tightening energy regulations. However, the key to unlocking projects remains the planning process and funding.

Building Regulations are fairly clear, known factors that can be built into a design and viability assessment. Building regulations have also led to the industry having to react positively to the requirements [such as new energy saving regulations].

We need a streamlined planning process that can provide clarity to developers

The clarity that regulations offer is, on the other hand, not provided by the planning process. This remains a huge unknown hurdle for any project, particularly larger scale regeneration projects. We need a streamlined planning process that can provide clarity to developers on programme and outcome much earlier.

George Oldham, formerly of Barratts

George Oldham, former chief architect at Barratts:

The government needs to commit to funding, then build the biggest bonfire imaginable. For 20 years successive governments have been in thrall to vociferous special interest groups who have stifled action.

Of course we need Norman Foster’s estuary airport. Just bring in the legislation to do it. Of course we need several hundred thousand affordable new homes, so just do it.

Legislate to make the land available, the government paying no more than a reasonable rate

Legislate to make the land available, the government paying no more than a reasonable rate, then selling on to builders  given simple health, safety and sustainability criteria that they are contracted to meet. Then let them get on with it. When I was with Barratt, the rule of thumb allocations were 35 percent for land and 20 per cent for profit.Both are far too high, allowing too little for build investment. Land should be made available at about 15 per cent of total cost and open book tendering should be on about eight per cent margins.

We are far too fearful of development today. What we should encourage, we prevent. Where would we be in 2012 without the legacy of 19th century railways or 20th century motorways, and what is the crowning glory of the Cotswolds? Not therather bland landscape, but the human settlements; the glorious towns and villages built primarily in a less regulated age. So let’s get our priorities right; our people need houses and our economy needs the kickstart of investment in building and infrastructure.

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