The Ethics of Development (part II)

In the last article ‘The ethics of Development Part I’, I set out the framework within which I think the profession can begin to consider the ethical impact of projects that they are involved in.  This has come about because last year I was asked to speak about ethics and architecture at the APRES 2016 conference. I accepted the invitation because I thought that it would force me to confront the question: What does ethics mean in a professional context?. These articles are the result.

Since ethics are primarily about how we deal with each other, architects might be forgiven for wondering what it has to do with buildings built with, hopefully, inert materials. But since the purpose of building is to serve the needs of people, clients, users, occupants, and society, there are ethical implications to every act related to design and construction, some of which are covered in part by legislation, and many which aren’t.

The central question of ethics, as I see it, is ‘are we being fair to everyone involved in the process of design and construction?’

A further question we need to ask ourselves is: Does our professional ability and knowledge mean that we should take an extra level of care for everyone and everything affected by our work, even when legislation and guidance are absent?  A check through the two codes of conduct that architects should follow is revealing insofar as it reveals an inadequate response to today’s environmental crisis.

The RIBA Professional Code of Conducts states:

Members shall respect the relevant rights and interests of others.

The ARB Architects Code states:

12.1 You should treat everyone fairly. You must act in compliance with your legal obligations. You must not discriminate ……

The RIBA Professional Code of Conduct states:

3.2 Members should be aware of the environmental impact of their work.

Note: Aware! But not asked to do anything.

The ARB Architects Code states:

5.1 Where appropriate, you should advise your client how best to conserve and enhance the quality of the environment and its natural resources.

The ‘where appropriate’ has me baffled. Where would it not be appropriate? Given that every project an architect could be involved in must have an impact, how could such advice ever not be appropriate?

In my previous article I set out the four areas within which to consider the ethical implications of any project, here I expand on those with examples of issues to consider, this is not meant to be exhaustive, only indicative.

  1. The stages of the building over time, its design, construction, operation, and demolition. What are the impacts of the building on people over time? How does it change over time? Are we aiming for the greatest good for the greatest number of people?

For example, a question we might ask in regeneration projects, or in any design project where an existing use is being closed or moved to facilitate the new project, ‘Are people being treated fairly to enable the design and construction process to happen?’

This question is particularly relevant to regeneration projects where the lives of people who live within the regeneration zone are going to be disrupted to enable the regeneration project to happen. Care must be taken to ensure that they are treated fairly and end up being beneficiaries of the project. If they are to suffer the disruption of moving and being rehoused, possibly more than once, then surely they should enjoy a share of the benefits of the project that they are enabling to happen.

Historically, many slum clearances happened without the agreement of residents, work was done to them, and not with them, and happily, we no longer behave this way in the UK. Other countries do behave this way, there is plenty of evidence of such clearances happening in China over the last decade. But whenever I hear the word ‘decanting’ (a shorthand term for moving people out of their buildings into other accommodation) I feel that while we may have moved on in terms of how we work, but not all of us have moved on it terms of the way we think. Decanting is something you do to wine. Perhaps we should use the word ‘disrupting’ instead?

At the same time, we must ask ourselves whether people who are on the housing waiting list are being treated fairly.

Across England, there were 1,183,779 households on the social housing waiting lists in 2016. If we take an average household size of 2.3 from the last census, that gives us a figure of 2,722,691 people.

The needs of such people, often housed in substandard accommodation, at high costs to the country, and often overcrowded, should be given sufficient weight when deciding what to do in any situation.  There may be a temptation to give more weight to people who are already living locally in any planning decision, but surely the need of those not present have equal weight, and if their need is dire, greater weight than the incumbents?

  1. The context for the physical building, the immediate location, the wider context and the global context. Do we aim for the greatest good or the least damage to the planet?

In recent years we have seen a huge rise in the amount of legislation, guidance, and advice related to greening the construction sector. Building Regulations, green building standards, and policy have all pushed the sector to make massive improvements in the performance of buildings. But two issues remain, the policy has become patchy as first the Coalition and then the Tory Government pulled back on the scope and level of intent of such policies, and the analysis of completed buildings demonstrates that many are not achieving the environmental targets that were originally set.  

Should the architectural profession have a set of core standards that give guidance and support to professionals working on projects where clients or local policies don’t support or actively work against environmental targets or where national policy vacillates due to political expediency? If we are to have a Government propped up by the DUP who claim that climate change isn’t real, we need protection against potential further backsliding. Particularly at a point in time where we are leaving the EU and will no longer have its substantial support for environmental protection.

Should the profession refuse to work on projects where there is an unwillingness on the part of clients to meet their environmental obligations? Would this strengthen our position as expert and impartial advisors, or weaken it?

  1. Those affected by the purpose and use of the building, the client, the funders, owners, operators, those nearby, the neighbouring region and the rest of the planet. Do we aim for the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people? If so, how do we account for this and what do we mean by benefit? Is it financial gain, safety, better services? How do we compare these against each other in terms of the benefits they bring as well as the difficulties they cause…

Some of these effects are covered by the law, Building Regulations or a duty of care, but much of it isn’t.  As we build at higher densities, issues occur which are new in the UK and poorly considered by our regulations, other countries with more tall buildings are further advanced than us in some respects. When more people move into an area, the balance of the community is changed. While some argue that an influx of new people into an area is beneficial as it brings more economic activity, those living in the area previously often feel threatened by new neighbours, rightly or wrongly. Increased levels of traffic is often a bone of contention but is probably used as a stalking horse for the real objection, which is to any new development, regardless of its impact on traffic.

It is important that we are clear about the benefits that new development brings to an area as well as acknowledging the impacts that it causes.

4.The needs of the users, ranging from the most basic ones of shelter to the most sophisticated level of personal development. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs provides us with a ready-made structure to use here so we may only need to assess how this structure relates to our work as designers and whether we are giving due attention to the different needs of building users. A fundamental issue is whether we know how well or badly we are currently doing before we even start to think about improving matters.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is well worn, but relevant to the built environment. It proposes that our human needs are hierarchical and dependant on each other. Only by fulfilling basic needs of shelter and nourishment can we begin to achieve well-being, good mental health, and fulfillment. An ethical view of this would support a designers ambition to create buildings that help their occupants in achieving as much of the hierarchy as possible. From shelter on the one hand to enabling self-actualisation on the other. This makes the basic point that buildings are for people, not for architects, and it is only by fulfilling the needs of the people living in our buildings are we fulfilling our own needs as professionals.

Do we know how well we are doing? Mostly not. Post-occupancy study happens in a tiny fraction of the built environment, even of the part of it designed by architects. Without a better evidence base, we risk becoming irrelevant as others who lack our design drive are enabled by technology to sample the needs and desires of people and to provide it to them through technology that bypasses us. A connection to our audience is essential for the profession to thrive, and our audience is the user of our buildings, not each other.


A new entrant to the UK Housing Sector

You would need to have been living under a rock to have missed the arrival of Legal & General on the UK Housing scene. From a position of no involvement in housing, L & G are now set to become one of its biggest players. How has this come about? Because of the housing crisis.

L & G (and others) see the current UK housing market as an opportunity. With a backdrop of strong demand, rising prices and an existing set of housebuilders which are unwilling or unable to ramp up production to meet the demand, this looks like a market that is ripe for disruption.

Instead of going down the normal route for a new entrant to the market, and playing the same game as the uincumbents, L & G are going for broke. They have invested in the largest factory in the UK, bought a Cross-Laminated Timber production line, and just in case you missed the point, are setting up a plant to manufacture CLT to guarantee their source of supply. They are doing nothing by halves.

The plan is to produce and supply 5,000 homes per year, or more from the factory, and to supply all of it using CLT. Thereby adding the same output to the industry as ten additional Barratt divisions, or a Redrow to the housing industry.

They don’t intend to compete directly with the housebuilders, because they are not going to be selling a comparable product at a comparable price. Mostly they will be developing to own and rent their own housing stock.

The interesting elements of this is because much it will remain in their ownership, it is open to investment. The U.K. Housing industry has not been open to investment since we decided that we had to own our own properties. Now that we have accepted that this is both unwise at some stages of our lives, and impossible for many people, there is a clear and undeniable need for long term home rental. A pension fund looks at long term home rental and sees something that it can invest in.

The housebuilders have shareholders too, but their focus is on paying out dividends each year rather than owning assets thta appreciate. Although housebuilders do won assets in the form of land, and it does appreciate, it doesn’t have nearly as much value when traded as it does when it has homes built on it. This makes the housebuilders a poor investment risk compared to rental property. Rental property accrues value and brings in an income every year, so there are two opportunities to make a profit, both in the short term and in the long term.

In Germany, a large proportion of housing supply has pension fund backing. In the UK it is almost non-existent due to our historical distaste for renting. This is all going to change and there is a lot of headroom to grow into for investors.

Another impact from the pension fund is that they care about the long term, their business model means that they have to. If you are paying out pensions to thousands of people every year, you have to be confident that the money will be there for them. This means that they care about what homes are built from, how well it will last, and how sustainable they are, because it matters a great deal to them and to the people who are paying into their pension funds. Who would invest in an oil company now? Or a coal mine? But housing in the UK, with strong demand set to continue into the foreseeable future? That looks like a safe bet.

Drones for Deliveries (Part 2)

Following from my first article on drones and how they might be used for making deliveries and how they could be organised I wanted to follow up with a closer look at how they would work when they reached their destination. Google and Amazon are both testing drones for this purpose, so it is a case of when, not if they will be used for this purpose, and I wanted to look at the potential impact on buildings for designers. I am interested in this in the first instance because I see that from their widespread use could lead to the removal of a large percentage of delivery vans off the streets of cities, a reduction in delivery cost, energy saving and lower pollution. This will bring attendant benefits to the attractiveness of urban life, with lower noise from traffic and more convenience for sending and receiving deliveries.

The diagram below shows the path a drone will take to its destination by ‘hopping’ from location signals from each address. While in the ‘circle’ of the signal it picks up delivery codes matching its package, these delivery codes will be time stamped, so to find the destination it has to follow the time stamped codes to their point of origin.


Path of Delivery Drone to Destination

Another benefit arising from my ideas about how their distribution system would work is that a recipient of a package could have it delivered to wherever they were, in the office, at home, or in the park. That is covered in more detail in the first article.
I wanted to look at what happens when the drone arrives to your home or building. If you aren’t there, what happens to the delivery? How is it stored, and protected until you arrive to collect it.
I am assuming that there will be a horizontal separation of drone traffic above an urban zone. See Fig 1. Drones would be allowed to circulate freely in this area, with helicopters restricted to fly above them. Landing zones for helicopters would be created by geofenced openings in this layer.


Fig 1. Stratification of Drone Traffic

To begin with the drone has to be guided down to its destination. Fig 2 shows a diagram of a geofenced area which a drone could follow when it leaves the circulation zone above buildings.


Fig 2. Location Beacon cones used to ‘geofence’ drone arrival

Once the drone has followed this guidance down to its landing area and has safely landed, it can deliver the parcel. The parcel needs to be stored until it is collected, and this could be a delivery box that could sit in a garden, or on a balcony if one is available, or on your roof if it is flat and accessible. This is shown in Fig 3.


Fig 3. Delivery Box for a single address, plan section and elevations

The delivery box has a lid which opens when a drone arrives with a delivery, and the package is dropped by the drone into the box, which then closes up awaiting the owners to collect the package, or for another delivery. The box would be equipped with a system that recognises the delivery code of the package that the drone uses to match owner and package. The same code is used to open the delivery box by the package owner.


Fig 4. Delivery Box for multiple addresses.   I Drone arrives.   II Package is accepted.   III Package shunted to store.   IV Ready for new delivery

For people living in apartment buildings the problem is a bit more complex. If deliveries could be accepted on a balcony, the solution is similar to that for a garden or flat roof. A delivery box with a hatch and a door would work. If this can’t work and deliveries have to be made to the roof, the storage box has to be big enough to anticipate a lot of deliveries and needs an arrival box and a storage box, the sequence of how it could work is shown is Fig4.
This arrangement assumes that a concierge would come and collect the deliveries and take them to their relevant destinations. This is a weak point in the security of the system, and assumes that the concierge is trustworthy. In all cases the delivery is electronically tagged with a unique identifier, enabling the recipient to track its movement from when it leaves the shop to when it arrives at the delivery box.

Happiness and Well-Being in Housing Design

This is an unusually long post. So make a cup of tea or pour a glass of whisky before starting.

In 2008 the UK Govt Foresight commissioned the New Economic Foundation to investigate well-being. The context was a concern among policy makers that Gross Domestic Product may no longer be the sole measure of success of Government policy. Many surveys have shown that even while GDP rises, happiness and well-being do not rise with it. Money does not buy happiness it seems.

The result of this work was a report called The Five Ways to Well-Being which contained some recommendations for you to follow. You might call them the Five Pillars of Happiness? These are described below. The italic descriptions below are NEF’s attempt to create short versions of the Five Ways that are easily communicated and understood.

This work prompts a question for designers. What does this mean for the design of places for people to live in, and how ought we design them differently if we have well-being in mind. Is Well-Being equated to Happiness and are either of them capable of being designed into a development? Is well-being or happiness so strongly related to an individuals personal circumstances that it is not subject to outside influences and it is unwise for a designer to ever suggest that one can design in happiness or well-being? The NEF research suggests that it is possible for people to influence their own happiness, and that there are objective as well as subjective elements to it, hence the Five Ways. Walt Disney gives it a good try in the various Disneyworlds around the globe, but those are hardly places that can, or should, be duplicated, and in any case, there aren’t enough Mickey Mouse suits to go around.

What is also interesting about this research is that it suggests positive action towards a positive goal, rather than positive actions to prevent negative results. Most regulations are aimed at preventing negative results or outcomes such as fire, accidents, structural failure, lack of space and so on, but what could design become if it aimed at positive outcomes instead? Of course many designs are aimed at positive outcomes, hospitals, schools, and many other building types, but the positive outcomes are usually measured by asking whether the temperature in the building is maintained at a steady level, whether the building uses more or less energy than planned, and whether the maintenance bills are low. While all of these are important, we rarely look at the well-being of people who use or live in them to assess the success of our buildings. Granted this can be difficult to measure, but part of the Office of National Statistics work on Well-Being suggests that it is possible to do, and is already being done in small unconnected ways in different disciplines.

It seems to me that housing and its relationship to well-being has a particular role here, insofar as people spend more than half their time at home, and probably change homes less frequently that they change their jobs. Creating a professional expectation that designers should try to enable well-being in their designs, and crucially, check whether they are succeeding, is likely to lead to better outcomes. I think that this expectation applies particularly to the designers of house types used by the major house-builders, as these will be built many times over, thus repeating the same mistakes over and over again, or improving the lives of occupants over and over again. If we are going to build something many times, lets build the right thing, and not the wrong one.

Reading through the five ‘Ways’, which are intended by NEF to explain to laypeople how to interpret the research, it is possible to link all of them to interventions in the built environment in some way or other. Either through direct interventions, or through the creation of space for something to happen. Some issues can be considered and responded to in parts of buildings or in the public realm between buildings, other issues can be responded to by creating spaces that in turn encourage actions by others who will follow on after the designers work is done. The designers job is to create a stage for the actors to use, an environment where things are more likely to happen than not.

The Five Ways to Well-Being:


Connect with the people around you. With family,
friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work,
school or in your local community. Think of these as
the cornerstones of your life and invest time in
developing them. Building these connections will
support and enrich you every day.

For designers, I think this means creating opportunities for people to meet, to create streets where they can interact, and to bring the activities that stem from entrances and pathways together to create places where the greatest number of people have the best chances of interacting. Making the ground surface the place where it all happens, pedestrians, drivers, bus passengers and cyclists, all merging together and creating possibilities for activity, commercial and social.
This also means enabling people to see each other, to be visible to each other. Places where windows and doors are visible from the street and the street is visible from inside homes.

This means that creating shared spaces is important, where people can mix and meet each other, where children can play and parents can interact, allotments where they can work together and community spaces where they can gather to plan their joint future or knit, play bridge, practice yoga or get married.

This means that high density mixed-use is better than low density monoculture. The more people that are mixed in an area and the more uses, the more likely people there are to meet people like themselves, and make connections, or find appropriate work. This refutes the idea that anyone will find happiness by buying a large plot in suburbia and driving there and back without ever seeing their neighbours.

(See Charles Montgomerys excellent book on Happy Cities for many examples of broken families and difficult lives created by the long commute to and from suburbia.)
Be Active

Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game.
Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most
importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy and
one that suits your level of mobility and fitness.

For the designer this means creating readily available opportunities for exercise. Streets that are designed to be walkable, and enjoyable to walk along. For this to be true, there needs to be variety in the character of the areas, and potential for change so that seasons can be marked in changing colours of leaves and birdsong, as well as the visible changes in family life that goes on in homes. Washing on the line, children’s toys in the garden, bicycles parked in front of houses all give interesting clues to the life being lived inside. Green spaces also need to be provided, and designed so that they can be used as stopping points, or provide opportunities for more active exercise through fixed equipment.

Inside the buildings and houses, the stairs should be designed to be more prominent than the lift and designed to be welcoming rather than forbidding. Landings could have a window seat so that older people can still use the stairs, but have an excuse to stop and rest and enjoy the view.

Inside homes, spaces should be created to enable and encourage exercise. Why create a dining room with fixed furniture that is used once a month, and no exercise space. Put in an exercise bar and a mirror instead and celebrate the idea of exercise without making it seem too obvious. Use the mirror to increase the light in a room to make it more attractive to be in. Put in a wooden floor with underfloor heating so that it is comfortable to use all year around.

The availability of fresh air for health is important, as is the ability to filter out pollutants. Residents should have both opportunities, together with daylight at different times of the day to ensure that they get sufficient light to read or work by, and enough light to set their daily circadian rhythms.

I learned recently that bungalows produce a condition called ‘Bungalow Knee’ by doctors, where older residents knees seize up through lack of activity. This is the first such condition caused by a building that I have heard of. But it raises an important question about regulation and comfort. Providing ease in the form of level thresholds, ramps and stair free environments may be good for the less able among us, but are we inadvertently designing out the exercise in our environment to solve the problems of a few, and denying the regular exercise that the rest of the population needs? Similar evidence is growing around the provision of overheated environments in care homes where any interruption in the heating system produces a lot of ill-health among residents whose systems have become accustomed to constant temperature and are no longer able to regulate their temperature.

Take Notice

Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the
unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment,
whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to
friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are
feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you
appreciate what matters to you.

For designers this is directly related to the ‘Connect’ and ‘Be Active’ ‘Ways’. Perhaps there is a prompt here for design to be more creative and to design in features that catch the eye, or which change when looked at from different angles. Buildings that have some greater level of detail that is only visible when you get closer, or a roof-level feature that is only visible from far away. The designing of opportunities for public art into a proposal is a potential route to creating places that catch the eye and encourage curiosity. The natural world is also a very interesting and varying thing, so creating opportunities for diversity in planting, and places for birds to live and roost, and bats and animals to live can all contribute to the rich experience that this ‘Way’ calls for.

The aspect of the design of homes that is most relevant here is the design of windows. It would help this ‘Way’ to create windows that provide different kinds of views, to the immediate outside, and to the distant horizon. If there is a tree in the street, a window should frame it. A window with a seat to sit in and to enjoy the view. A picture window that is low enough so that the view can be enjoyed while sitting or lying down. A window positioned to bring sunlight into the bedroom. A rooflight to bring a view of the sky into the middle of the house.

Keep Learning

Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for
that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix
a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your
favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving.
Learning new things will make you more confident as
well as being fun.
The response for the designer here is to create spaces where things can happen. Putting seats in the right place on the street so that people can watch the world go by, or take a break in a busy day. Create spaces in residential buildings that can be used for short periods of work so that they can run small businesses from home, and they can learn from our neighbours who can pop in to help them. Make sure that spaces in residential buildings are flexible enough so that if people want to have a hobby, they have space to do it in. Make sure that the building acoustics are good enough for someone to learn to play the drums or bagpipes without annoying the neighbours. Create communal spaces where people can run short courses for their neighbours, or have a party for the residents of the building.


Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone.
Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look
out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked
to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and
creates connections with the people around you.

Designers can respond to this idea with a home that creates zero harm by being very energy efficient, sympathetic to nature in its design, manufacture, operation and reuse. It may not be able to ‘give’ directly, but we can design it to ‘take’ as little as possible. We cannot help people to volunteer though, this one is almost out of the hands of the designer. But it can be helped along by creating places in a masterplan where community groups can meet and decide how they want to work together. By creating Community Interest companies that can run a development after the developer has left, and which create opportunities for people to develop skills in managing their local environment in a responsible way.


All of the Five Ways resonate with me, as directions that designers should keep in their minds while designing. It is not sufficient to design to meet regulations, there are other responsiblities than the clients direct needs and the regulations imposed by society that a designer should recognise.

In a period where the intention is to design and construct a lot of housing, we would do well to make sure that it is all of the highest quality as it will be there for many years after we have left, affecting the well-being of its residents and through them the success or failure of wider society.

Are we Abandoning the Suburbs?

Is the UK market abandoning the suburbs? The housing supply chain appears to be in two main camps.

On the right, politically as well as metaphorically, we have the low-rise housing supply. Mainly delivered by house builders, developed on sites outside the green belt, often on arable land, mainly selling detached dwellings and characterised by high car ownership and low amounts of affordable housing.

On the left, again politically as well as metaphorically, we have urban housing supply. mainly delivered on brown field land, mainly by developers, and increasingly delivered by local authorities and housing associations. This is characterised by being dense, low, medium and high rise, with high amounts of affordable housing and low car ownership.

Housing Starts + Completions

The graph is based on DCLG published figures for housebuilding starts and completions for the last decade. I have taken the figures for the major urban centres and compared them to the rest of the housing supply. The trend is clear. Urban housing is growing as a proportion of housing supply over the last decade, even in the downturn between 2007-2010. The proportion of urban housing continued to rise even when the overall numbers of supply dropped.

This tells me that the urban market is stronger than the suburban one, and a more reliable one in the long term. The urban centres include Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, etc as well as London.

The current position is that the urban market accounts for 24% of starts in 2013, the highest in a decade, and with many new developments in the planning system this growth appears to be reliable.

Is the UK heading to the cities? Has the housing market awoken to the promise of living in cities? Have people come to realise that a lengthy commute to the suburbs, to the garden that you never have time to enjoy, to a partner who is at least as tired as you are, is no way to live? Have we fallen out of love with the suburbs? Probably not, at least not yet. But this trend, coupled with the decline in car ownership in most Western economies, does suggest that a quarter of the market is moving in this direction.

While this charge is being led by London, with 73% of urban completions in 2013 in the capital, 69% of starts in the same year were in London, suggesting that demand in other urban centres is growing faster than the London rate.

It will be interesting to see whether the typical housebuilder supply of housing in the suburbs regrows to take up UK housing demand or are we going to see a change in direction in the market towards more urban, inherently more sustainable living?

The 2015 Election and Housing Standards

The next year will be a defining one in the history of UK housing. In March (?) we expect to hear from the Housing Standards Review that there will be a once-in-a-generation set of changes to housing standards. This may involve extending the Building regulations to include spatial standards as well as standards for wheelchair housing. It will signal the end of the Governments use of the Code for sustainable Homes to set higher standards for affordable housing, and it will also end the DCLG’s ability to use this standard to indicate future direction for housing regulation. So, while DCLG can now use the Code to propose and test future regulation, giving housebuilders, designers and developers time to test, feedback and prepare for the new rules well before they come into force, in the future we will be back to using the Building Regulations Advisory Committee (BRAC).

There is no doubt that having a mechanism to test future regulation well before it is adopted has been a useful feature of the Code. Projects like AIMC4 have been spurred by the presence of the Code and have enabled housebuilders and fabric manufacturers to develop systems and processes that otherwise wouldn’t have been contemplated. Without this type of mechanism changes in regulation are subject to political whims, such as the delays to the announcement of the Building Regulations 2014 targets for Part L which means that designers and housebuilders won’t get access to new versions of the SAP 2013 tool until March this year, a month before they will be used. This is not good enough. Any industry needs time to understand new regulation before it is enforced, and a few weeks is not long enough.

Returning to the Housing Standards Review, I wonder whether ministers are going to take the political gamble of proceeding with the steps as consulted upon. A very wet winter has brought the subject of climate change to the top of the political agenda. The parties are scrambling to produce policies for the next election that demonstrate that they are taking flooding seriously, and that means taking climate change seriously. It is interesting that the Housing Standards Review doesn’t mention flooding or flood risk at all, and only considers water in the context of water usage and low water use fittings. SUDS is left out of consideration in the document, despite being an element of the Code for Sustainable Homes since 2007. The National SUDS standard being developed by DEFRA has been delayed since 2011, apparently by resistance from housebuilders who don’t want to incorporate measures into schemes because of the additional costs involved. The national standards came from the Pitt report which was prompted by widespread flooding in 2007. This omission will come under more scrutiny when the review announces its proposals.

later on in the year we will have the preparations for the 2015 election. Already Labour and the Lib Dems are making noises about housing in preparation for their manifestoes. Even the Princess Royal is getting into the act! Every man and his dog will have a housing policy by the end of the year. Including innovative measures such as:

-offering homes for sale in the UK first, and only offering unsold units overseas.

-using Government land for self-build-custom build-small developers only

-a land tax on land banking

-capital gains taxation for overseas buyers (why don’t we have this already?)

-confining growth to every rural village!

None of these are going to be popular with housebuilders or the Conservatives, but I can see the first being popular with UKIP voters, and anything that is likely to work for UKIP will get serious attention from the Tories as the UKIP vote eats into Tory seats.

The truth is that politics and housing do not work well together. Housing policy needs to be long-term to work, and the current set of knee-jerk policies look to be out-of-date even before they are implemented. The revolving door of the housing ministry has meant that no-one has taken the job seriously for a decade and that is at least partially responsible for the hotch-potch of measures and policies we are now discussing. The five-year window of opportunity granted by modern politics is simply too short for a housing industry to function. Getting a single site built takes at least three years, when you already have the land. The housing industry, including housebuilders, contractors, designers, housing associations and local authorities needs to take more control of its destiny, and tell Government what its policies ought to be.

Green Deal Event – Brighton CIHSE

HTA and Kingspan Insulation, in collaboration with the Housing Forum, hosted a Green Deal event at the Metropole hotel Brighton during the CIH SE conference. The speakers were Emma Bulmer from the DECC Green Deal team, Cllr Joe Goldberg, cabinet member for Finance and CO2 emission reductions from LB Haringey, and myself from HTA. The event was chaired by Shelagh Grant from the Housing Forum.

Emma Bulmer opened the event with a description of the Green Deal and how it will work for consumers, providers and installers. She confirmed that the secondary legislation will be in place this year and that the first Green Deals should start to happen in late 2012. She highlighted the work of Birmingham and Gentoo with British Gas who are pioneering projects now.

Cll Joe Goldberg followed with an introduction to the Haringey 40:20 initiative and the potential role of the Local Authority in delivering the Green Deal. He described options such as

-the Local Authority providing the finance using prudential borrowing,

-acting as a Green Deal Provider, or

-providing a leadership role in bringing together other parts of the industry to coordinate the Green Deal and building a consensus among its residents to participate in it.

He pointed out that the Green Deal requires a strategic response to housing, there are some places where it makes more sense to demolish and regenerate than to apply the Green Deal, this strategic view needs to be taken early to ensure that we don’t waste resources upgrading the wrong properties.

My main points were that

– the Green Deal is something that the housing industry needs to sell to people, they are not going to come to us. Currently the Green Deal is not sufficiently attractive to people, but Emma said that DECC is looking at using the £200m announced in the last budget to incentivise take up.

– we will lose any cost efficiencies if we try and sell the Green Deal on a house by house basis, we must deliver the Green Deal on an area basis if we are to deliver it profitably, and there are many benefits to doing so.

– we need planning authorities to be behind the Green Deal, particularly to enable the delivery of large scale External Wall Insulation projects. EWI Needs to be permitted development for all areas outside of conservation areas and listed buildings.

– the Green Deal will be available late this year so let’s start planning the projects now. The Green Deal can act as a funding stream for part of a project, by funding some refurbishment, or by raising the value of existing stock. It also creates an opportunity to engage with residents who are affected by proposed development and provides a positive outcome for them from any project. It has the potential to turn NIMBYS into YIMBYS!

There followed a Question and Answer session chaired by Shelagh Grant.

Questions included

-whether it made sense for housing Associations to be regulated as Green Deal Providers in the same way as other providers. Since housing associations are already heavily regulated and are bound to protect the rights of their tenants, does it make sense to duplicate the regulation.

Emma responded that DECC has received 600 responses to the consultation and are still working through them.

– Housing Associations ought to be able to deliver Green Deal measures in tandem with their normal repairs and maintenance activity, why isn’t the Green Deal set up to enable this to happen more easily?

One comment from the floor was that – What housing associations need is for Local Authorities to provide leadership and act as a catalyst for getting the major players together in their boroughs to get the Green Deal to happen.

Overall it was a successful event, well attended and there has been good feedback from the attendees. If there is sufficient demand we will follow this up at next years conference.

Zero Carbon Hub Annual Conference 2012

Today was the annual Zero Carbon Hub conference to review the progress of the Zero Carbon agenda. There were a few significant highlights from the speakers and the Q&A afterwards:
– there was a lot of mutual backslapping regarding the progress to date, Paul King commented that we are about half-way along the path from 2007 when the policy was introduced by Yvette Cooper, to 2016 when the policy becomes reality.
– many speakers bemoaned the fact that SAP is not fit for purpose, and the fact that it is owned by DECC, managed by the BRE on behalf of DCLG is at the heart of the problem. One representative of a major house builder declared (privately)that they would be happy to fund its development along with others, if the result was a transparent, reliable and useable system of compliance assessment. What is the point of doing R&D to gain 5% of benefits to find that this is wiped out by the next update to SAP?, he asked, quite reasonably.
– there was welcome news from the NHBC that owners of low carbon homes are satisfied with them and there is research to back this up.
– there was welcome news from Lloyds Bank that there is an emerging Green Mortgage market. There is also evidence that low carbon homes may command a premium because fuel bills are lower than for existing homes and other newbuild homes. As newbuild performance increases and the gap in running costs opens up between existing and new homes, there is an expectation that the market for new homes will grow.
– there was an explanation of the proposed changes to Building Regs from DCLG that didn’t leave me any the wiser, so I’ll just have to read the consultation.
– there was a speech from Ray Morgan that managed to annoy just about the entire room, doing what Ricky Gervais did for the Golden Globes, and Paul King invited him back to chair next year.
Next year can we have the conference somewhere with daylight? Not at the bottom of a deep cave in Kings Cross.

Harrogate Housing Conference 2011

Harrogate 2011 is the last CIH housing conference to be held there, in the venue that has hosted it for the last twenty-five years. Many deals have been done, many relationships started and finished, many a late night drink taken at the Majestic bar. None of the attendees I spoke to think that the move will be positive for the conference. The fringe networking, which for most people is the sole reason for turning up, will be much more difficult at G-Mex where the conference centre is separated from the city centre.
The charm of both Harrogate and Brighton is that they are both smallish venues with a lot of good eateries and accommodation within a stones throw of the venue itself, but in both cases the conference is only an excuse for the industry to gather and talk, and is not the main event.
The decision to move the conference, in the face of dropping attendance may kill it off entirely instead of resurrecting it’s popularity.
My proposition is that we should set a day in the calendar to meet in Harrogate once a year to just network, without stands and talking heads, just decision makers.

The Age of As(s)piration

Today the new housing minister told us that the age of aspiration is back. The problem (apparently) at the moment is that all those people who have been desperate to get into debt are not able to do so because the4 banks won’t lend them any money. The Governmen thinks that they should be allowed to do so at the earliest opportunity. Why? Because they aspire to, thats why. At the same time the Prime Minister is telling us that we are all already in too much debt and we need to clear them as soon as possible, and we musn’t think about doing anything else until we have made significant progress in doing just that. Is it just me or is there a mixed message here? Our ownership levels are already higher than most of Europe. What would be wrong with developing a stronger private rented sector than we already have? A sector backed by pension funds that invested in high quality serviced accommodation in modern well-built and sustainable buildings. Is this not likely to be more of a solution to our housing problems than encouraging people to get into debt. What am I missing?