Housing Standards Review Chaos (Updated)

The response from DCLG has been published here. This was published under the title, ‘Government sets higher standards for homes’ which wasn’t true, as the annoucement sets no new standards, and gets rid of quite a few, including the Code for Sustainable Homes. The title has been changed to ‘Government plans will make it easier and cheaper to build homes to a high standard’ which at least is accurate. It will be easier and cheaper to build homes to a less high standard than before. There is no mention of an exception for London, so the status of the London Housing Standards is unknown.

Previous blog starts here:

The Housing Standards Review is due to report back to the industry in march. My guess is that at the moment the DCLG is in a difficult position. London probably doesn’t want to give up on its Housing Standards, having spent years and millions developing them. Who can blame them? So I am guessing that London wants to be an exception to the dropping of the Code and any change to its powers as an authority. This is likely too put DCLG in an awkward position to put it mildly. Having proposed a raft of changes to the way housing is delivered across the UK, it now may end up having to restrict the changes to those parts of England outside of London. This highlights the fact that we have an increasingly two-tier economy. The South East and the rest. The economics of the South East means that there is little or no economic impact of any imposition of standards. The standards could be substantially higher and it still wouldn’t affect the business case for development.

For the Midlands and the North, the case is very different. There are many sites that are still marginal and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Companies that bought land there at the height of the market are unlikely to make a good return on them any time soon. You could say that the problem of overpaying for land is a problem for the overpayers and not for the rest of us. Isn’t that how the market is supposed to work? But at the same time, wherever there is a housing need it is unfortunate that those who need good quality housing aren’t able to get it.

The position is the opposite in the South East. Values are rocketing in London in particular, and this is spreading to some unlikely areas of the capital, where developers are marketing their products to less than knowledgeable buyers in the Far East, who only need to hear the words ‘London’ to open their cheque books. I hope those agents are quoting sensible rental income figures. (Who am I kidding?).

The other issue facing the Housing Standards Review is that many LA’s have recently rewritten their Core Strategies to cope with the changes in the NPPF. Having to change their Core Strategies to take on a further set of changes will be very expensive, right at a time when they are having to manage deep cuts to their budgets. How willing will they be to take this on?

It will be fascinating to see how this all works out in the end, but my guess is that the Dept has bitten off more than it can chew on this issue, and having taken on swingeing cuts itself when the coalition came to power, it doesn’t have the capacity to deal with it.

My prediction is that the Housing Standards Review will be a set of recommendations for further studies and reports and a promise to tackle it all if the Tories elected for a second term. Now is the time for the industry to get together and tell the parties what they want to see in the next set of election manifestoes.

Meanwhile the Code for Sustainable Homes will become out-of-date from the first of April because it refers to 2010 Building Regulations. What happens then? We need to know now, not after the 1st April. We are all working on development projects that need to be planned years into the future, and at the moment, the housing Standards Review is sowing uncertainty and confusion, which is exactly the opposite of what it was intended to achieve.


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