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.
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)