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Housing White Paper: the profession reacts

White paper collage
  • 1 Comment

Industry expresses enthusiasm for more housebuilder diversity, frustration over green belt intransigence, and concern over space standards

A new focus on design – but national design standards under review

Arita Morris, director at Child Graddon Lewis
‘The Government review of Nationally Described Space Standards could be a backwards step in a hard-fought battle over decades to improve space standards. I believe that London development over the past 15 years has proved mixed-tenure housing is feasible using the current requirements.’

Ben Derbyshire, RIBA president elect
‘I am pleased the government has recognised the value of good design in winning local support for new developments. The proposed use of area-wide design codes is a proposal the RIBA has long supported. Areas that have already developed and adopted design codes are among the most successful at building new homes. We hope that more parts of the country will take up this mechanism and work with architects, planners and other experts to draw up proposals that reflect local priorities.

’A race to the bottom will not fix the housing crisis’

‘Balancing affordability, quality design and adequate space is vital to fixing the housing crisis. A race to the bottom will not help achieve this and must be avoided. We look forward to contributing to the review. While I understand that the government wants to help those struggling to get on the housing ladder, we have seen a number of examples already of some developers proposing tiny two-person homes of less than 15m² in converted office buildings. This cannot be a long-term solution to the housing crisis.

‘Where the standard has been implemented, we have seen a reverse in the trend for smaller homes, bedrooms increasing to usable size and greatly improved storage provision. Removing or weakening the standard at this time would disrupt the industry as a whole, including the housebuilders who have spent a great deal of time gearing up for it, and the local authorities who have been through costly local plan revisions to implement it.

‘The space standard, which has only been in force since October 2015, was introduced following years of work and analysis by those across the housing sector, against a backdrop of public concern that many new-build homes were too small. More than 80 per cent of those asked agreed that a national space standard was needed.

Getting local councils to build more homes

Hari Phillips, co-founder, Bell Phillips
‘In the post-war period the housing sector was at its most productive when the public and private sectors worked alongside each other. There’s very little in the white paper to encourage or support local authorities taking the initiative, being proactive and developing their own land to deliver genuinely affordable housing.

‘It’s good to see a requirement on local authorities to plan for older and disabled housing, and there are some intriguing nuggets such as a mention of using “airspace” above other uses. However for all this and the document’s frequent reference to the need for everyone to pull together and do their bit – sounding at times like wartime propaganda – I can’t see this providing the seismic shift that’s desperately required. For that we need concerted, serious commitment to drive forward a new wave of council housing.’

Mark Robinson, chief executive, Scape Group

‘Today’s Housing White Paper puts local authorities centre stage of the country’s housing challenge. The government has rightly recognised the role that councils can play in delivering new homes, and it is about time that they were given the powers to do so.

‘But the government must also give them the resources they need.

‘Without the planning and regeneration officers needed to process applications and complete local plans, the government’s aspiration for hundreds of thousands more new homes will fall flat. Simply chastising overwhelmed and under-resourced local authorities through a new monitoring system won’t speed things up. The government has paid lip service to the financial pressure on planning and regeneration departments, but a crack team of super-planners and special deals for larger authorities will not be enough to tackle a national housing shortage.’

Mark Sitch, senior partner at Barton Willmore
’For councils, it seems this White Paper is as much stick as carrot, piling the pressure on to jumpstart housing delivery. The question is will the Secretary of State start intervening where the planning system is failing entirely?

‘For councils this White Paper is as much stick as carrot’

’The effectiveness of much of this will depend upon the detail of the very many areas of further policy that the Government promises to consult on shortly, but perhaps most importantly the political will nationally and locally to avoid bucking difficult decisions. Every time the Secretary of State or leader of a council allows an area to avoid playing its part in accommodating much needed new housing, any hope of solving the housing crisis is undermined.’

Phillip Glanville, mayor of Hackney
’This White Paper is classic style over substance. The Government’s analysis that the current housing market is broken is spot on, unfortunately its proposals to fix it fall well short of what’s necessary to build the thousands of genuinely affordable homes we desperately need.

’It’s particularly disappointing that it didn’t move at all to lift the borrowing cap so councils like Hackney can directly fund and build homes for their communities, nor is there any new money for the existing fund to help councils and housing associations build homes for social rent or shared ownership.’

Brendan Kilpatrick, senior partner at PRP

’A well-structured document which clearly understands the scope and scale of the crisis but which, disappointingly, is laced with good intentions rather than with specific detailed interventions.

’Funding support generally falls short or is too thinly spread and there is a hefty residue of nanny state proclamations throughout, urging others to solve a problem which is securely within the Government’s remit. Further, it does little to address the housing crisis and more specifically, the affordable housing emergency in London.’

Planning permissions to last just two years

Hari Phillips, co-founder, Bell Phillips
‘The proposal to reduce the time taken for developers to implement permissions seems like a good idea in principle but the get-out clause of ‘except where a shorter timescale could hinder the viability or deliverability of a scheme’ will surely just see housebuilders’ viability consultants running rings around the system.’

More competition for the big housebuilders – diversifying the developer pool

Rhian Kelly, infrastructure director, CBI
‘It’s encouraging the government is looking at how to make it easier for small and medium sized businesses to succeed in the market. Taking a clearer, more strategic approach to public land release will also see more bricks being laid, so we welcome the government turning its eye to this developing area.’

David de Sousa, director, AHR    
‘The government is recognising the benefits of good-quality architecture, and we agree with the recommendations for creative and innovative designs for new housing stock, particularly for SME housebuilders. Using modern construction techniques and design technologies, we can go beyond traditional building and future-proof Britain’s new homes.’

Alex Ely, mae
‘The White Paper rightfully addresses the need to diversify the market, backing small and medium-sized builders to grow, including through the Home Building Fund; and I welcome the support for custom-build manufacturers, of which we are one. However, the only time housing supply has matched demand has been when the public sector has built as many houses a year as the private sector and there is limited commitment in the white paper to increasing local authority delivery in a meaningful way, for example by reviewing their borrowing caps.’

Green Belt stays – building taller and denser in the cities 

Ben Derbyshire, RIBA president elect
‘The institute is strongly supportive of a focus on developing brownfield land. However, in many areas we need to recognise that such land is in very short supply. In light of the overwhelming interest, it is a shame that the government hasn’t taken the opportunity to look at the future role of the green belt in more detail.

‘The ability of local councils to open up land for development in exceptional circumstances is welcome. However we need to look at what can be done to promote a more long-term approach to the use of land that sees closer links between new infrastructure and housing projects.’

Ken Shuttleworth of Make and The Future Spaces Foundation
’The White Paper rightly stresses the importance of addressing local housing needs at a local level – for development to be successful, it needs to reflect the character, accessibility and infrastructure capacity of an area in both density and form. ’

’For development to be successful, it needs to reflect the character of an area in both density and form’

We repeat our call for local authorities to work with architects and planners to develop housing types tailored to the needs of their individual locale, and for the Government to develop an overarching standard for new development that sets a benchmark for quality, provides minimum requirements for density and transport infrastructure, and resonates with modern living. 

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman, Home Builders Federation
‘The presumption in favour of development on brownfield land is something the industry has long called for. The industry supports the protection of the green belt but agrees that in areas where local authorities cannot identify sufficient land to provide the homes their communities need, they should be able to choose to amend their green belt boundaries.’

Jonathan Manns, head of regeneration and director of planning, Colliers International 
‘After months of rumour and speculation, the government has finally published its Housing White Paper. Yet, rather than this climactic moment proving to be the explosive finale to end a national crisis, the secretary of state has revealed a predictably damp squib.

‘Regrettably, we see weakness in areas where it really matters. Despite demanding that local authorities don’t duck difficult questions, the government has ruled out any consideration of the way in which we could reform the green belt to secure better outcomes for our built and natural environment. There’s no National Spatial Plan to balance economic growth or tangible indication of exactly how local authorities will be resourced to deliver their new-found responsibilities.’

Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive, UK Green Building Council
‘We welcome the government’s focus on the creative use of brownfield land, new support for planning authorities, and efforts to encourage the better use of existing homes.

’While delivering a significant quantity of homes is crucial, so too is delivering high-quality homes. If we do not aim for zero-carbon standards now, we will likely need to go back and retrofit these buildings in just 10 years’ time in order to meet our carbon targets.

‘The good news is that putting quality, good design and cutting edge construction methods at the heart of the housebuilding process is actually conducive to achieving the scale of housebuilding we need to see. A focus on urban areas – where people want to live and work – requires intelligent design and the engagement of local people to deliver high-quality, high-density developments that work for new owners and existing communities alike.’

Seth Rutt, Hawkins\Brown
’This is where the White Paper loses its way. There is a fundamental conflict in allowing local communities more control over location of housing and promoting increased density.

’The UK is one of the most densely populated regions in Europe. It’s understandable that communities are resistant to increased population density, where they are already fighting for access to local resources such as healthcare, schooling – and even standing space on a train to get to work. Surely the key to unlocking housing density is improvement of social and physical infrastructure, rather than hoping ‘localism’ will solve housing provision?’

Incentives for elderly to downsize and free up large family homes

Mark Littlewood, director general, Institute of Economic Affairs
‘Despite being well-intentioned, many of the initiatives put forward are fiddly and fail to address the main cause of Britain’s broken housing market: a lack of supply. Initiatives encouraging pensioners to downsize are a red herring; many don’t downsize simply because there is a lack of suitable alternatives.’

Neil Brearley, founding director of residential investment consultancy Cast
‘With the possibility of hundreds of thousands of extra homes being released, it is vital that effective frameworks of incentives are given to older people. The emergence of a dedicated senior living sector, with houses designed specifically for the elderly, will help address the challenges posed by downsizing. But there are a number of key obstacles currently preventing its fuller emergence in the UK.’

Duncan Walker, managing director of retirement village developer Renaissance Villages
‘For the retirement sector to really gain traction we need to support funding by a completely different capital structure. This was also an opportunity for the communities secretary to introduce an incentive for people buying a family home from a downsizing owner. This would galvanise the progress of property chains, which are often upwards of five sales long, and help to free up larger family homes and assist the housing ladder from first-time buyers upwards.’

Diversifying housebuilding

Simon Henley of Henley Halebrown

’Diversity, as they say, is key. More and smaller housebuilders will bring variety and inspiration.

’However smaller developers and self-build groups, like our co-housing clients for Copper Lane, often have to compete with the more established housebuilders for land. So reasonably priced land is vital to the equation for great homes.’ 

Read the government’s housing white paper here 

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • The White Paper acknowledges that the reasons for a 'broken housing' delivery are complex and I welcome most of the ambitious statements.

    It seems to be light on addressing the particular problems faced in London and the South East and it is disappointing that it does not promote particular policies to address this, as the crisis in this part of the country is the most acute.

    Talk of the 'Northern Powehouse' and 'Midland's Engine' is the usual political language used to attract votes by promoting regional investment in jobs and infrastructure. But in terms housing, it is not a credible or even deliverable policy, when it is in London and the vibrant South East where people want to live and work. Policy needs to reflect this. Let's see if the Government listens.

    John Assael

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