The AJ unpicks today’s long-awaited Housing White Paper, which sets out how the government intends to tackle the housing crisis. Here are the top six points every architect should know
1. A new focus on design - but will design standards survive?
The white paper says local communities should have a ‘greater say’ and choice in the design of new homes. It says the government will make further funding available to neighbourhood planning groups from 2018-2020, which could be used to allocate sites for housing and to improve design.
Under the heading Strengthening neighbourhood planning and design, the paper argues that ‘using a widely accepted design standard, such as Building for Life’ could help ‘shape and assess basic design principles’.
The government also says it will support the creation of ‘digital platforms on design, to create pattern-books or 3D models that can be implemented through the planning process and used to consult local people on potential designs for their area’.
Speaking about these proposals, Alex Ely of mae said: ‘While this could be a promising way to support innovative design, we have seen from the risible Starter Homes Design Guide, launched by former housing minister Brandon Lewis in 2015, that if poorly written it could spell disaster for the quality of our housing.’
Worryingly, the government adds that it plans to review the Nationally Described Space Standard, which was only recently introduced.
Ben Derbyshire, president-elect of the RIBA, said: ‘While I understand that the government wants to help those struggling to get on the housing ladder, we have seen a number 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.’
2. Local councils and housing associations to build more homes
According to the paper, the government will ‘explore options to encourage local authorities to build again’, including through a new £45 million Land Release Fund and a new Accelerated Construction programme, which involves building on public sector land.
The government will release £25 million ‘to help ambitious [local] authorities in areas of high housing need to plan for new homes and infrastructure’.
Local authorities will also be held to account through a ‘new, standardised way of calculating housing demand’, and review it at least every five years.
The paper adds that, on the provision that they reinvest the profits into their planning department, local authorities will be able to increase planning fees by 20 per cent from this July.
Councils and developers will also be expected to build homes at a higher density and in taller buildings where there is a shortage of land, as well as in locations well-served by public transport.
In addition, the paper sets out how the government plans to support housing associations to build more homes, through measures including setting up an independent social housing regulator and reiterating the position of these associations as private sector bodies, with a commitment to implementing the necessary deregulatory measures to allow them to be classified as such.
3. Cut! Planning permissions to last just two years
The white paper outlines plans to speed up house-building by shortening the timescale required for developers to start building once planning permission has been granted, from three years to two.
But Hari Phillips of Bell Phillips Architects questioned a condition of this proposal, where it is stated that this two-year timescale would be applied ‘except where a shorter timescale could hinder the viability or deliverability of a scheme’.
This ‘get out’ clause, he said, would ‘surely just see housebuilders’ viability consultants running rings around the system’.
The paper also says the government will ‘increase transparency around land ownership’ in order show where land is available for housing and when organisations are sitting on land suitable for housing and not building on it.
4. Mixing it up – more competition for the big housebuilders
The white paper proposes an Accelerated Construction programme, which will involve partnering with small and medium sized builders in order to build on public sector sites ‘faster than traditional disposal routes’. The paper says this move will see up to 15,000 housing starts over the course of parliament.
It also reiterates the government’s support for the £3 billion Home Building Fund, which supports small and medium sized builders and was introduced in October last year.
’This lack of competition means a lack of innovation’
Speaking to the House of Commons, communities secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘At present around 60 per cent of new homes are built by just 10 companies. Small, independent builders can find it almost impossible to enter the market. This lack of competition means a lack of innovation, which in turn leads to sluggish productivity growth.’
Simon Henley of Henley Halebrown said: ‘Diversity, as they say, is key. More and smaller housebuilders will bring variety and inspiration. But he added that, because smaller builders often have to compete with more established builders for land, ‘reasonably priced land is vital to the equation for great homes’.
5. Green belt stays – building taller and denser in the cities
On the whole, the white paper continues the government’s commitment to protecting the green belt, and Javid said that his plans would not entail ‘recklessly ripping up our countryside’.
The white paper concedes that greenbelt boundaries can be amended, but ‘only in exceptional circumstances when local authorities can demonstrate that they have fully examined all other reasonable options for meeting their identified housing requirements’.
Alex Ely commented: ‘The government continue in its stubbornness over the green belt, which can only mean further hernia development rather than natural expansion. We know that just a 1km ring of greenbelt from inside the M25 would yield enough land for a generation of building at current rates.’
6. More support for build-to-rent over home ownership
The white paper proposes further measures to support build-to-rent developments, including changing the National Planning Policy Framework to allow authorities to ‘plan proactively’ for these schemes.
The paper also proposes making it easier for build-to-rent developers to offer affordable private rental homes, and will introduce a definition for these homes, alongside other types of affordable housing.
The paper adds that the government is working with the British Property Federation and National Housing Federation to create ensure ‘family-friendly’ tenancies of three or more years on certain schemes.
British Property Federation chief executive Melanie Leech said: ‘The measures aimed at stimulating the build-to-rent sector are a tremendous vote of confidence in the sector. They will help it add to supply, deliver better quality homes for renters, provide innovation in construction and reinforce partnership working with local councils.’