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Architects excluded from housing quality board

Shutterstock richard johnson new housing state housebuilding housebuilder

Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke has been appointed to chair a panel to oversee and police the housebuilding industry – but a former RIBA president has criticised the lack of architects in the group

The member of Parliament for Dover & Deal takes the reins of the interim New Homes Quality Board, which is working towards creation of an industry code of practice.

She is joined on the 11-strong panel by representatives of three construction companies, trade body the National House-Building Council (NHBC), public body Homes England and other related organisations (see box below).

Her appointment represents another step towards the appointment of a new homes ombudsman with power to uphold newly defined standards of housebuilding.

But Ben Derbyshire – chair of HTA Design and past president of the RIBA – said it was ‘concerning’ not to see any architects on the interim board.

Derbyshire, who was also a member of an All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment enquiry into the possibility of a New Homes Ombudsman, said the group had heard ‘dismaying’ evidence of poorly run projects.

’There is no doubt in my mind that the rigour that architects bring to site operations, given the opportunity, would support the quality construction aspirations of the government’s Building Better Building Beautiful commission,’ he said. ‘It’s concerning to see the profession has been excluded from Natalie Elphicke’s interim panel.’

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment warned back in 2017 that satisfaction levels were falling among buyers of new-build homes. A few months later councils chief and peer Lord Best called for an ombudsman with ‘sharp teeth’ to drive up the quality of housebuilding.

Tory MP Natalie Elphicke

Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke

Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke

Elphicke was appointed as new homes quality champion last summer and housing minister Christopher Pincher this week hailed her succession to interim board chair.

Pincher said: ‘Building the homes we need is central to the mission of this government.

‘As construction resumes, I am determined to see the building of high-quality homes at the heart of this process. The board’s broad wealth of experience will drive improvements in the sector, ensuring high-quality new homes and better protection for homebuyers.’

As well as drafting, consulting on and adopting the code of practice for housebuilding, the interim board will appoint a permanent board to replace itself and agree a process for appointment of the new homes ombudsman to police use of the code.

It aims to have a permanent board in place this autumn, and a code and ombudsman in place by 2021.

Elphicke said: ‘I am committed to ensuring that the new arrangements will deliver a step change in the quality of new homes and customer experience.

‘They will be based in the principles of independence, transparency and integrity, values I know this government, and the industry, are determined to instil. I look forward to working with all parties to finalise and implement these changes as quickly as possible.’

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman at the Home Builders Federation, said the journey towards a new homes ombudsman had been ‘long and strenuous’.

He added: ‘The new robust arrangements will provide a huge challenge for builders but the industry fully recognises the need to deliver, and we will.’

The RIBA said in a statement: ’The horror stories of poor quality and safety of new homes are a source of huge damage to the reputation of the whole construction industry.

’It is vital that this new board has teeth so it can help raise design standards within the new housing sector. We look forward to working with the New Homes Quality Board, ensuring that it benefits from the expertise of architects.”

A report published by the Bartlett School of Planning earlier this year found that the vast majority of new housing developments should not have been built due to their shoddy design.

Interim New Homes Quality Board members

  • Jackie Bennett UK Finance (banking trade body)
  • Joanne Casey Mactaggart and Mickel (medium sized builder)
  • Gillian Cooper Citizens Advice 
  • Douglas Cochrane Independent
  • Barry Cummins Homes England (public body)
  • Jennie Daly Taylor Wimpey (volume housebuilder)
  • Natalie Elphicke MP (chair)
  • Katy Jordan Storey Homes (small builder)
  • Paul Smee Conveyancers Association (legal body)
  • Nicholas Boys-Smith Create Streets (development lobbyist)
  • Steve Wood NHBC (insurance provider)

Readers' comments (13)

  • Industry Professional

    So... What does it take to build quality housing?

    Apparently, according to membership of this panel, it takes finance, construction, conveyancing, insurance, building control, a think tank, and Political will.

    Its absolutely right that there should be a panel such as this, and an ombudsman should be appointed.

    However, where are the Architects, the Planners, and the Residents' associations? What about design quality, planning and community involvement? How is the right housing going to be built in the right place? What about the future health and wellbeing of communities?Does the fire service have any input at all? Have we learnt nothing from Grenfell?

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  • The perpetrators take complete control of the asylum, with new fluffy guidelines of "principles of independence, transparency and integrity". That'll be the day.

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  • Oops, I followed the logic and forgot to mention design. Quality is obviously to do with eliminating technical defects, leashold scams, gazumping and instituting more policing by the excessively conservative NHBC who are fundamentally a policing organisation that has failed to police its subjects competently and allowed lots of defects through because all it does is ensure it isn't responsible for anything and the tab for defects is picked up by someone else.

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  • It would be good to see a body that has successfully delivered quality on the panel, like the Peabody Trust. Did the dopy RIBA even know this was being assembled?

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  • Industry Professional

    As an engineer rather than an architect, I am dismayed that there is not at least one architect on this panel.
    As the first person pointed out, there are others who should really be involved as well.
    I will have to give the benefit of the doubt to what is the independent person's background and also what particular axe the "development lobbyist" likes to grind!
    I do hope that the RIBA can get its act in order soon and try to influence matters such as this.
    Jeffrey - an engineer - comments made via the IHS

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  • Who is in charge of appointing the Board members?
    If it was an MP, then every architect in their constituency should be asking how there are three representatives of the industry responsible for the quality problems on the board, and not even one architect.
    At the volume end of the house builders' spectrum some of their work in recent years has been so appallingly bad that some should be banned from further housebuilding until they can demonstrate that they've cleaned up their act.
    Having them on this board - for now, anyway - is like inviting the fox into the henhouse.
    But then, maybe the volume house builders are donors to the governing party in Westminster.
    Robert Jenrick's major faux pas over the Westferry Printworks redevelopment (AJ online 22nd May) surfaced in the national media yesterday and - though raising little comment here - is distinctly grubby and might well prove to have been the first sign of just how critical it is to ensure that this government is held to account for its behaviour where 'big business' is messing with our built environment and trying to manipulate our elected representatives.

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  • This is ridiculous. RIBA - step up now and do what you are supposed to do - lobby government on behalf of design and architects.

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  • I am a chartered Building Surveyor. You can also ask, where is the RICS?

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  • John Kellett

    I can only echo the frustrations of many architects (the ONLY profession fully qualified to act as architects) why there are no architects on the panel?
    The fact that so little housing is designed by architects (and the few that are are often dictated to by developers and planning authorities) is one of many reasons why the general quality in housing is so low. The RIBA must do better with the other chartered building design professionals in lobbying government to ban the un(der)qualified from designing buildings. It would be a simple move that would be easy to implement and would improve the quality of housing for all parties. It is ‘the norm’ in most developed Countries with no proof it wouldn’t work.

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  • Can't see this group driving forward any agenda that is relevant other than for their respective interests. Very odd that Architects, engineers and surveyors excluded not to mention the exclusion of community interest.

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