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​Design is ‘incredibly important’ in new homes, says housing minister

Aloksharma©policy exchange
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Housing minister Alok Sharma has stressed that design is ‘incredibly important’ in building more homes – and has suggested he may revise space standards

Sharma also hinted that the government could reduce the period of time that construction must start on a site once planning permission has been granted  – from three years to two; and provided an update on his response to the Grenfell Tower fire.

Speaking at a Conservative Party conference fringe event, ‘How Do We Build the Quality Homes That Britain Needs?’, Sharma said: ‘Quality is incredibly important, but yes, so is design … And this goes back to the point of having people accept homes in a particular area.

‘If you have homes that they have had a hand in helping to set out design codes, they are much more likely to accept it.’

Later in the talk, Sharma discussed potential plans for changing UK space standards.

‘On average houses in the UK are smaller than on the continent and, as part of the whole issue around design and looking at quality, I think you also have to look at space conditions as well,’ he said.

The Reading West MP and chartered accountant, who became housing and planning minister in June, went on to say the government would ‘talk about design’ in the revised National Planning Policy Framework, which is due to be published ‘during the early part of next year’.

Joking that his special advisers could tell him off for letting information out prematurely, the minister alluded to a new project the government was working on, which would look at design.

‘There is, of course, the piece of working that is going on in the course of looking at issues around design, which we understand is actually vitally important as well in terms of the types of homes that people want to live in,’ he said.

Discussing the Grenfell Tower fire, Sharma said: ‘What happened at Grenfell has caused everyone who is involved in the housing sector to ask some really, very serious questions.

‘I am starting a tour around the country, talking to tenants’ organisations and tenants about the issues that matter to them in terms of social housing – so whether it’s safety, whether it’s to do with the quality of housing, whether it’s to do with the engagement of landlords.’

Regarding speeding up construction, he said he was looking at giving local authorities the ability to insist that building work had to start within two years of planning permission being granted rather than the current three.

Also sitting on the panel with Sharma were Lewis Sidnick, director of corporate and external affairs at NHBC; David Thomas, chief executive of Barratt Developments; and David Montague, chief executive of housing association L&Q.

The panel members also discussed the upcoming Brexit negotiations, with Montague warning that the construction industry was facing a skills shortage. 

‘In London, we’ve got 350,000 people working in construction, and … around half come from Europe and beyond,’ he said. 

He added: ‘We really do face something of a construction skills crisis … We have to back a long-term plan for investment, we have to deal with the here and now. So what we would like to hear government saying is that skilled workers are welcome wherever they come from.’

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