Pesky regulation – that’s what has been holding the housing market back, writes Paul Finch
How long do you think it will be before the free-marketeers in the Conservative Party call for an end to fire regulations, or special accommodations for people in wheelchairs? Impossible, you may think. But if long-standing commitments to zero-carbon homes are thrown into the dustbin of history in cavalier fashion, as they just have been, who is to say?
The odd thing about this latest piece of deregulation is that housebuilders didn’t seem to have a problem with it. Indeed, having been institutionally opposed to higher standards in the sector, they had come to embrace protocols like the Code for Sustainable Homes as a way of showing consumers that they, too, were concerned about the future of their children.
The CSH is now being replaced by the HQM, another TLA, this time dreamed up by the privatised BRE. Aspiration always seems to trump requirement in the British way of thinking: why not have regulation, which puts everyone on the same playing field, rather than get-out clauses for people who want to produce rubbish? The food sector is another example.
Even the sainted Boris, having produced good minimum space standards for London homes, has now reduced the floor-to-ceiling minimums, no doubt under pressure from the smaller-is-better brigade at Tory HQ. In this, architects are not entirely blameless. The argument that miniscule dwellings are OK because clever designers can use the space more efficiently is a road to nowhere, and simply drives down standards generally. It does not mean the hutches that pass for homes will be well designed, simply that yet another get-out clause has been provided for people who may act from profound principle, but see a quick buck in cramming more rabbits onto the same site.
The dumbing-down in the housing sector is mirrored elsewhere in UK Plc, which is turning into a commercial and intellectual Spivland. Thatcher’s assault on grammar schools was just the start. Now we have the future of the BBC being determined by people like the former boss of Channel 5. It isn’t now the BBC which makes you proud to be British – it is Channel 5. Assaults on NHS consultants are another example of an ideological commitment to undermining another institution that has defined this country for most of a century, and which provides (like the BBC) incredible value for money, despite well-publicised management failings.
Here in London we have the chumocracy in action ensuring that Uber is Über Alles as black cabs get the runaround from the Mayor and Prime Minister downwards, because someone who runs Uber is married to someone from Goldman Sachs who knows Dave. All you need to remember about Goldman Sachs’s view of London traffic is that it paid the City Corporation to shut Stonecutter Street, close to the Giant Vampire Squid headquarters, forcing taxis and everyone else into making circuitous and unnecessary diversions to complete simple journeys. What a bunch of phoneys, along with the lickspittle City burghers who connived in this elimination of public road space.
We had better get prepared for further policies aimed at diminishing public institutions, public ownership and public property in favour of quick sell-offs with no questions asked; no claw-backs; freeholds not long leaseholds; and so on. Meanwhile the free-marketeers will relish the billions being stashed by bankers, contractors, lawyers, accountants and auditors, who have done so well out of PFI, the (failed) private sector proposition about how to deliver the social contract.
No doubt at some point architects will get the blame for bankrupt hospital trusts, too.