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More homes, better homes: the industry tells us what it wants

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The profession talks to us about what it would like to see emerge from a shake-up in the building regulations - and should the government be taking things further with a Mary Portas-style review of planning?

Maggi Howard, director of assets and enterprise at Liverpool Mutual Homes
‘High quality design, build, products and maintenance is vital, especially for the social housing we deliver over and above the government’s Decent Homes standard. So regulation is imperative to prevent shoddy, inadequate construction.
‘The government [wants to review] regulations covering home building is in order to breathe life into a struggling construction industry. But there is significant danger the standard won’t stand the test of time if quality is deemed less important than price. Indeed, cutting regulation will only serve to foster a false economy. 
‘If standards [such as the Code for Sustainable Homes] is not imposed, it will be too late to do anything about it and there will be irreversible damage to the planet and other crucial issues such as fuel poverty, will increase.
‘In 2010 the Homes and Communities Agency consulted on a new standard for social housing, with an expectation of Sustainable Homes Level 4 being the minimum, taking us closer to 2016’s zero carbon target.

Deregulation will lead to corners being cut, standards dropping and consumers incurring more costs

‘However, the current competitive, low-capital grant regime, reliant on subsidy from raising rents elsewhere, means Level 3 is the norm. This is far from ideal, but what would the standard be if this regulation was removed?
Clearly, deregulation will lead to corners being cut, standards dropping, consumers incurring more costs long-term and a property catastrophe that will be inherited by future generations.’

Anthony Hudson of Hudson Architects
The Government’s deregulation mania has little to do with real economic recovery: it’s partly a panicked gut reaction, and partly about political philosophy despite the lack of evidence linking regulation with under-investment. The reaction also ignores recent history that demonstrates the consequences of under-regulation elsewhere.

Regulation often drives economic growth and research investment - think of all the possibilities with energy saving technologies. The need for regulation varies in time and place, and right now is crucial to bring UK housing standards up to those elsewhere in Europe. In Holland or Germany long-term ownership is more generally in the hands of bodies who are fundamentally interested in the longevity and sustainability of housing stock. The UK needs to overcome its short-termism where the dominance of private ownership means that housebuilders rarely look beyond the initial sale.

House ownership is not the panacea it was once thought to be

In a competitive open market with many players, good demand and supply without massive distortions of ownership, size and monopolies will help improve the quality and range of products. Not so in the UK housing market, where value is created from getting planning permission rather than competing through offering quality or choice to consumers. Regulation is therefore necessary to address this market failure. Regulation is also necessary to protect the public through a level playing field of minimum standards for structural stability, fire protection, sanitation, health and safety and so on.

Slugging housebuilding is simply because of a lack of demand in a housing market that is over-dependent upon private ownership. The future could look more promising as we realise that house ownership is not the panacea it was once thought to be. A move back towards renting will of course take time, and until it does we need regulation to bolster minimum standards for building.

James  Pellatt head of projects at Great Portland Estates
The planning process can be simplified, but that shouldn’t result in worse design and there is a definite relationship between investment in design and higher sales rates.

It’s wrong for adjoining owners to hold developers to ransom

The biggest barriers to progress to development after planning and lack of finance are third Party issues. For the government to make progress with housebuilding they should provide legislation that standardises the Rights to Light and Access to neighbouring land issues, achieved in the same way that the party wall process works i.e. there are statutory time periods for dealing with issues. There shouldn’t be a dilution of adjoining owners’ rights, but it’s wrong for adjoining owners not to respond or worse hold developers to ransom.  Unlock those barriers and more people will develop.

Maxwell Hutchinson, former RIBA president
Tinkering is no solution. This country has an acute housing shortage. We need to build around 250,000 homes a year to cope with unplanned demographic change: longevity, immigration, single parent families, rising birth rate and all that.

We need a Mary Portas style planning hit

‘At its best the construction industry is the country’s largest employer. The large house builders have an unprecedented land bank with planning consents but mortgages are just not available. These facts are not very helpful to architects as the large house builders are marginal employers of architects. It is always useful   to remember that out of the 4,500 or so architectural practices in the UK 50 per cent are two or less architects, they all want a fast, efficient, clear thinking, planning system. New planning legislation does not do the trick. We need a Mary Portas style planning hit to tell the appalling stories of inaction and indecision; two months, and six sides of A4 will tell it all.

Paul Zara, director at Conran and Partners
We have to keep pushing sustainability. You can’t think in the short-term about that sort of thing. But some of the Lifetime Homes requirements make life over complicated.  Space standards could relax a bit – studio flats may be undesirable for some reasons, but they  might be affordable and you can get a lot on a site. Building regulations don’t hold up development, but badgers, bats and newts do.  Maybe a way of fast tracking that part of the process would be good.

Space standards could relax a bit

The current planning system does nothing to protect quality at the moment – schemes are ‘dumbed down’ post approval.  Condition the materials and key details.  Allow increased density if that can be demonstrated to be necessary in order to maintain build quality – that has a double benefit of more homes and better homes.

The government’s planning reforms are a red herring.  Nothing has changed – it’s all ‘let’s look at this’ or ‘let’s think about that’.  Get rid of planning committees and go straight to inspectors, or something similar. 

The government’s planning reforms are a red herring

It’s the planning committee system that’s holding everything up. A pseudo-democratic process that simply allows politics to get in the way of housing need.  We have clients who won’t go near certain councils if it’s within a year of an election because they know the council will be in limbo. 

If the government is going to publish an idea, then they should get it sorted so it can be implemented straight away. Coming out with ideas like reducing proportions of affordable housing in a development, or removing it all together, slows things down.  Why develop if you might be able to do something you’d prefer next year?

Andrew Rae, managing director at Fletcher Rae UK
‘The impact of further thermal and carbon reduction requirements under the Building Regulations is, as yet, unknown and may have a negative knock-on effect in 2013.

‘The Government has made its intention very clear to significantly reduce energy use in buildings – the minimum requirements in ‘Part L’ of the regulations are just one way it intends to achieve these reductions. Initial revisions came into effect in April 2006; further amendments are due to be implemented next year, which will affect domestic buildings.

The key is to strike the right balance between cap-ex costs and the bigger picture

‘The impending regulatory amendments will undoubtedly impact on construction costs moving forward. However, the hope is that these will provide longer term benefits in building ‘running costs’ and lessen environmental effects. The key is to strike the right balance between cap-ex costs and the bigger picture, if we are to avoid more financial and logistical headaches for the residential property market across the UK.’

Jonathan Hines, director at Architype
‘I cannot help but be concerned when a Government that is ideologically opposed to state regulation, proposes a ‘bonfire’ of building regulations, especially when they believe that it is regulation that is stifling recovery in the building industry, rather than a lack of investment.

There is a potential opportunity here to simplify and improve

‘However, there is also surely a potential opportunity here to simplify and improve, especially with regard to the current complex energy and carbon regulations.

‘Everyone knows that SAP and SBEM are inaccurate tools for estimating real energy consumption, and that the current Regulation requirement to demonstrate theoretical carbon reduction against notional buildings actually discourages efficient design. The Code for Sustainable Homes and BREEAM have created a complex bureaucracy of tick box compliance, which do little to improve building performance .

‘So instead I would propose to replace part L with a simple alternative. Set a specific energy target in kWh/sqm/per year, to be calculated using the only modelling software which has been proven to work over 20 years of monitoring – that is PHPP (Passivhaus Planning Package).

Setting a clear energy target would remove current regulatory complexity

‘Simplifying regulation by setting a clear energy target would remove current regulatory complexity, fudge and confusion by providing a robust and quality assured way to achieve buildings that actually deliver specific energy efficiency.

‘If this is a step too far – why not make Passivhaus ‘deemed to satisfy’ as an alternative method of compliance, so that designers could at least choose this more effective alternative.’








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