William Eichler 19 February 2016

Councils should be ‘empowered’ to build new homes, Lords committee says

Councils should be ‘empowered’ to build new homes, Lords committee says

Local authorities and housing associations must play a bigger role in building, according to Lords committee.

The House of Lords Committee on National Policy for the Built Environment has criticised the government’s housing policy as unlikely to meet demand for either the quantity or quality of houses needed.

The committee heard 240,000 new homes are required each year to meet existing demand, a rate of building that they claim cannot be met by private developers alone.

They recommend councils and housing associations make up the shortfall, and they suggest the Government review the borrowing restrictions on councils and its own decision to reduce social rents—a key source of funding for local housing provision.

The Lords committee also expressed its concerns that the focus on the speed and quantity of housing developments poses a threat to sustainable planning for the long-term, quality, design standards and place-making.

They call for local communities and local authorities to be ‘empowered’ to demand high standards from developers.

The committee emphasises ‘speed need not come at the expense of quality, and a short-sighted approach runs the risk of repeating the mistakes of the past.’

More specifically, they voiced concerns that the easing of restrictions on converting office property to residential use, combined with a very strong emphasis on the financial viability of new developments, weakens the ability of local authorities to properly scrutinise planning proposals.

According to the committee, the Government should also reconsider the proposal to include 'starter homes' within the definition of affordable housing as starter homes cease to include any element of affordability after five years.

The current proposals on ‘starter homes’, the committee warns, ‘risk undermining mixed communities and preventing the delivery of genuinely affordable housing for the long-term.’

The committee also recommended the Government introduce a requirement for all new homes in areas at risk of flooding to have flood resilience measures built in.

They also say the Government should promote a co-ordinated programme of retrofit for existing properties in flood risk areas.

Baroness O'Cathain, chairman of the committee, said: ‘It is increasingly clear that we need to build more houses in England and we wholeheartedly support that objective.

‘However, if we build those houses in the wrong place, to a poor standard, without the consent of local communities we are only storing up future misery for the people in those houses and others nearby.’

She continued: ‘That is why we are recommending local authorities are once again empowered both to build new homes of their own, and to ensure all developments are of a suitably high quality.

‘Spending a little bit extra on good quality design at the outset can avert massive costs to people, society and Government in the long-run.’

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