The Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, who has for the first time conceded that the government cut investment spending too quickly after it arrived in office, was last night understood to have been swayed during a meeting with the business secretary, Vince Cable, to thrash out proposals in the next budget to spur growth.
On the table will be plans to cushion the blow of local authority budget cuts by allowing councils to borrow more freely to build new homes. It has been estimated that if borrowing caps were removed councils could build 60,000 homes over the next five years.
Pioneering new house-building methods and materials, such as timber frames, are causing concern among fire safety experts, a recent seminar held at the Houses of Parliament was told.
MPs were warned that many modern methods of construction, new forms of material and new engineered structures were not evaluated for how they can withstand fire in built properties.
Mike Wood, the vice-chairman of the Passive Fire Protection Federation, said: “Fire safety is too often seen as a constraint in design, limiting flexibility, adding cost and preventing the full expression of other cherished design niceties. One of the most dominant trends is to take short cuts in fire safety – to minimise, downgrade, perhaps eliminate – in the expectation that bad practice will not be detected and exposed.”
Wilf Butcher, the chief executive officer of the Association for Specialist Fire Protection, explained that new building methods need close attention due to the potential inherent dangers: “[The construction industry is] moving into wood frame construction, we are looking at modular off-site kitchens and bathrooms being effectively ‘podded’ into a building. We are looking at more fuel-efficient systems which can, in some quarters, be more flammable and toxic.”
Mr Butcher believes that the Government should also take a role over the issue: “The interaction of these new construction materials and systems, and how they relate to fire-safety measures, is an issue the industry and Government have to address over the next few years.”
then there is the curious case of the advisor who wasn’t (or was he?). Andy Gale ‘CLG Policy Advisor’ was the author of a briefing paper to Council officers that appeared to advocate unlawful gatekeeping, reducing the homeless preference in part 6 to effectively nil, and acknowledged out of borough offers were going to happen (not the official CLG line or guidance). We revealed the briefing document here. The Guardian picked up on the detail of the briefing paper here, and then all hell broke loose.
The CLG aggressively denied to the Guardian that Andy Gale had anything to do with them (though I noted at the time the strange precision of the wording used “Andy Gale is not employed by the department and […] it has no contractual arrangements with him”). Andy Gale vanished from a January 2013 conference where he was billed as CLG policy advisor. An erratum slip was issued at a November conference to say Andy Gale was not a CLG policy advisor.
Meanwhile, I was hearing odd tales, including one from several different directions that Andy Gale had been ‘frogmarched’ out of CLG HQ one afternoon about a week after the Guardian article. There were also whispers about him working at LB Newham as ‘a CLG advisor’. Bits and pieces were coming together to make it clear that the CLG’s denial was not necessarily as clear cut as it seemed.
Now the Guardian has gone public with the whole story, straight out of the Thick of It. Do read the full article. It might even make you feel rather sorry for Mr Gale. But some highlights are the CLG suggesting that Andy Gale had been effectively making up his ‘policy advisor’ title since 2008:
He [Gale] has advised the Government in the past, but he is not employed or seconded by DCLG, and it’s not true that this advice reflects our views. This alleged advice was not paid for, or commissioned by, or given to DCLG.
He has been told he should not present himself as a government advisor, and he accepted that.
Meanwhile Andy Gale was using a CLG email address…
As the Guardian Picks up
Gale, it turned out, was indeed not employed directly by DCLG. But unbelievably, the emails revealed the department was directly paying Newham to “host” Gale, precisely to advise local authorities on how to tackle homelessness
On 3 February 2012 an unnamed DCLG civil servant (the name is redacted) wrote to Newham:
‘I believe Andy has spoken to you about Newham hosting Andy Gale to continue to provide support to local authorities to tackle homelessness. I would be most grateful if Newham are able to help in this respect.
The objective is for Andy to continue to provide support for two day a week to local authorities. DCLG would provide additional grant funding to Newham this financial year of £72,000.’
Communities Minister Don Foster today launched a new independent group of building industry experts, tasked with simplifying the mass of rules imposed on developers and housebuilders, to make them easier to understand and follow.
As part of the Government’s Red Tape Challenge Ministers have made clear they want to do everything possible to remove unnecessary burdens and bureaucracy imposed on developers to get much needed new homes built, and support economic growth. The current, complex system of building regulations and housing standards will be targeted by a new Independent Challenge Panel, which will consider how these requirements work together and what potential there is to free up the system and make it work more efficiently.
The panel will for the first time bring independent experts together with government and it will report to ministers in spring.
But Mr Foster also made clear that essential safety and accessibility protections will remain untouched and that homes will always need to be built to high sustainability and quality standards.
Housing standards review
But with the hundreds of standards that can be applied to new-build homes, some of which duplicate each other, a separate group will work alongside the new Challenge Panel to consider the specific issue of standards applied to housebuilding.
While some of these standards are applied nationally across certain types of homes such as affordable housing, others are made mandatory by individual councils for building in their area and some are entirely voluntary – resulting in confusion for local people and developers. Examples include:
- The requirement for two phone lines in home offices, irrespective of need and in addition to broadband connection
- Rules on window sizes that include a ‘dirty window factor’ – imposing bigger windows to allow for dirt on them, rather than assuming people will simply clean their windows
- A requirement that ‘drying space’ is designed and assessed when often this is nothing more complicated than a washing line over a bath
- Conflicting guidance on how to construct safe and accessible stairs
- Standards being assessed repeatedly by different people – such as planners, code assessors, building control officers – often looking at the same issues but coming up with different answers.
This new review, led by DCLG and to be conducted by a group of industry representatives, will look to avoid overlap and duplication in the system, helping ensure builders meet the high standards that aspiring homeowners rightly expect.
Don Foster said:
“The current array of different housing standards used in different parts the country is complex and counter-productive: confusing local residents, councillors and developers.
“This is why an urgent review has now started, bringing the government together with housebuilders, planners, councils and architects to establish what the unnecessary measures are that we can cut out of the system, whilst ensuring buildings are still made to exacting standards.
“I want to see a simpler set of housing standards that people can easily understand and that free up developers and councils to get on with the job of building the high quality new homes we so badly to get more first time buyers and families onto the housing ladder.”
The review was part of the government’s housing and growth strategy announced on 6 September. It will result in a clear plan of action by next spring that will be put out to consultation.
Notes to editors
1. The Independent Challenge Panel members are:
- Andy Von Bradsky (architect)
- David Clements (building control)
- Paul Watson (planner)
- Kirk Archibald (developer)
2. DCLG is chairing and leading the housing standards review and has convened a group of members from representative industry bodies, comprising:
- Homes and Communities Agency
- House Builders Association
- National House Builders Council
- National Housing Federation
- Habinteg Housing Association
- Local Government Association
- Planning Officers Society
- Home Builders Federation
- Construction Products Association
- Building Control Alliance
- Association of Chief Police Officers
- Building Research Establishment
- Royal Institute for British Architects
- Building Regulations Advisory Council
- Greater London Authority
3. Some of the housing standards that the review will consider include the Code for Sustainable Homes, Secured by Design, Lifetime Homes, Standards and Quality in Development and the Homes and Communities Agency’s Housing Quality Indicators.
4. The review is taking place alongside the review of planning practice guidance which was announced on 16 October 2012, and both groups will be working closely together.
5. Terms of reference for the Housing Standards Review (PDF, 53kb)
6. Comments and enquiries on the review should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. The Red Tape Challenge was launched by the Prime Minister in April 2011 and is systematically examining some 6,500 substantive regulations that the Government inherited with the aim of scrapping or significantly reducing as many of them as possible. It gives business and the public the chance to have their say, by theme, on the regulations that affect their everyday lives. The Housing and Construction Red Tape Challenge was open for comment from the 12 January until 17 Febuary 2012. More information can be found on the Red Tape Challenge website.
8. On 10 September the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced that through the Red Tape Challenge at least 3,000 of the cross-government regulations examined will be scrapped or reduced. By ‘scrapped’, we mean that regulation is completely removed from the statute book. By ‘reduced’, we mean that regulations are reduced in number (e.g. a consolidation, making the rules simpler to find and follow); and/or in terms of the burden they impose (for example: reducing who is caught by the regulation; removing domestic gold-plating of EU law; active renegotiation of EU law; simplifying requirements set by the regulation or in related guidance; or reducing the burden of inspection and enforcement arising from the regulation). Around 1,500 of the 3,000 changes will have a measurable financial benefit for business: this does not include consolidations of regulations without any changes to the content of those regulations. The Red Tape Challenge comprises regulation of UK origin and regulation that transposes EU laws. It does not include legislation or regulations falling within the responsibilities of the devolved administrations, tax and fees legislation or national security matters.
People with a history of mental health problems are being excluded from social housing built in one of Europe’s biggest inner city regeneration projects.
The developers and local council behind the central London development have also set quotas for the number of homeless and unemployed people who can live there, an investigation by Corporate Watch and The Independent has found.
In what critics have described as a “crude exercise of social engineering” extra limits have been placed on the number of families with children who will be allowed to live in the 500 social housing units under construction at King’s Cross Central, while those with drug and alcohol problems or in rent arrears have also been excluded.
The exclusions – which have been unveiled in a series of freedom of information requests – are a departure from the usual points-based allocation process, which aims to let social housing to “those who are in the greatest housing need”. Mental health problems and homelessness would usually increase an applicant’s points total and position on the housing register. The King’s Cross Central homes will be let through Camden’s allocation scheme, but anybody who does not meet the special criteria will not be able to bid.
Mental health charities and housing groups have criticised the criteria. “I am shocked to see such a crude exercise in social engineering,” said Alison Gelder, the chief executive of Housing Justice.
Social housing construction was a condition for Camden Council granting planning permission for the £2bn development in 2006. Argent, the property company leading the consortium, says it will bring major community benefits to the area, which has been given its own postcode – N1C.
A total of 1,700 residential homes will be built, the majority of which will be sold privately. In addition to 500 social housing units and 250 “intermediate affordable homes”, 950 units will be sold privately.
When complete in 2020, the 67-acre site will contain the UK headquarters of companies, including Google and BNP Paribas, retail outlets, sports facilities, cultural spaces and the Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design.
The Council, developers and One Housing Group housing association, agreed a Local Lettings Plan for the allocation of the social and affordable housing in November 2010 to “establish a mixed, stable and sustainable community at the development”.
The plan specifies “a maximum of 20 per cent of social housing lettings to be made to homeless applicants” and that children can account for only 23 per cent. Unemployed households can only account for 25 per cent.
When questioned by The Independent, Camden Council admitted people with mental health problems had not been allocated any social housing, but said the Freedom of Information response had been taken “out of context”.
“In allocating the first tranche of flats at Kings Cross we were concerned that, as the infrastructure and social provision, which will come at a later date in the development, were not in place, vulnerable residents may have insufficient support to manage in these homes,” a spokesperson said.
The council insisted it had a strong record of providing for vulnerable people elsewhere in the borough but it would not definitively confirm whether people with a history of mental health problems would be able to bid for future lettings at Kings Cross Central when they come up. Instead they said they “may be able to move to the development when the next lettings become available”.
The site will also contain 55 supported housing units. Of these, 15 have been allocated to people with severe mental health problems, with the rest reserved for elderly people. However supported housing is not the same as social housing and is usually reserved for people who need regular or around the clock care.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, the mental health charity, said: “No one should be excluded from social housing or any other public service solely by reference to their mental health status. We have come a long way since the days of asylums, and segregation on the grounds of mental health is completely unacceptable.”
Dr Stuart Hodkinson, an academic at University of Leeds specialising in housing privatisation, believes the development is a sign of things to come: “This is what ‘localism’ is really all about when combined with cuts to social housing and housing benefit – empowering private developers and big social landlords to be able ‘cherry pick’ their social tenants.”
King’s Cross Central is being developed by Argent and Hermes Real Estate, owned by the BT Pension Scheme. The land is owned by the state-owned London & Continental Railways and German logistics company DHL.
Robert Evans, a board member of King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership said: “KCCLP has no policy of excluding people with mental health problems from the social housing at King’s Cross.”
Heres my two – penneth worth
A lot of major housebuilders put in planning applications pre-NPPF finalisation knowing that LPAs would be keen on ensuring they had a 5 year supply. this has a natural dropoff in the quarter since.
Post NPPF small scale developments encouraged on sites that previously would have been marginal or refused.
The increase in small sites in this quarter cant compensate for the natural drop off in large sites.
Either way starts as opposed to approval depend entirely on demand.
We shall soon see a return to normality – that is large sites coming on stream when local p[ans approved or when large developers lose patience and appeal. Of course in normal times approvals would translate into starts – we are nopt in normal times.
Montague – Its as bad as Beecroft
Where is the evidence that planning obligations on affordable housing should be abandoned, even if the coming review of viability for pre 2010 consents shows they are viable?
It contains the following section – which is a basic fallacy
• All housing other than social housing can be sold to owner occupiers by the developer – there are no restrictions on that
• The result is that all housing land prices tend to be fixed according to the price of owner occupied housing
• Developers wishing to build housing for rental will therefore compete for land with house builders that sell to the owner occupied market
• Because property can switch freely between the owner occupied and private renting markets, the opportunity cost of an investment in housing is the price it could achieve on sale to an owner occupier, not another investor
However the correct approach is as follows:
• All housing other than social housing can be sold to either owner occupiers or buy to let landlords by the developer – there are no restrictions on that
• The result is that all housing land prices tend to be fixed according to the price of whichever is most profitable at any one point in time – owner occupied housing or buy to let
• Developers wishing to build housing for one tenure will therefore compete for land with house builders that sell to the other
• Because property can switch freely between the owner occupied and private renting markets, the opportunity cost of an investment in housing is the price it could achieve on sale to another tenure, not another investor
Can there be any disputing this? Why should Grant Shapps back so enthusiastically this report when it contains such a wopping error.
The result is that one tenure – buy to let or owner occupier will tend to crowd out the other at any one time, social housing (if the scheme is viable) has absolutely nothing to do with it- duh!
If people and investor were indifferent between renting and borrowing then economic theory tells us that a no arbitrage condition would set the same price for both. We see different prices because people are not in different and because the type of stock built for rent and owner occupation are quite different. indeed the overbuilding of stock for buy to let is one of the biggest reasons why it is less profitable. Does this feature in the report – no – only one place for Montague – waste paper basket – I am indiferrent to the marginal utility of re-reading the report or recycling it.
The Policy Exchange has been getting headlines today from a report which proposes to sell off council houses in ‘expensive’ areas and build it in ‘cheaper’ areas.
But as is typical from everything Alex Morton produces it is half baked poorly researched crap based on false premises.
For example he claims.
We would only access this £159 billion slowly over time, as we are proposing
that this stock is sold off as it becomes vacant. Since 2005/6 the social housing
stock has had a vacancy rate of between 6–7% a year across England (the
rate at which stock ‘turnover’ occurs). This rate includes both voluntary
moves and deaths. However, expensive social housing is likely to have a lower
turnover rate. Tenants are less likely to leave desirable properties or properties
in desirable areas, because the private sector in these areas will be relatively
expensive. For example, London, where private housing is very expensive, had
a turnover of 3.5% a year from 2005/6 onward. Both London and the UK
had higher social housing turnover rates between 1990 and 2005/6. London’s
annual turnover rate ran at 5–6% for these years.
However this figure for the turnover rate between tenants includes where the tenancy is transferred to a surviving widow or widower or carer. There can only ever be one succession to a council tenancy. In situations where the original tenancy was a joint tenancy and one of the original tenants has died, the surviving joint tenant will have taken over the tenancy by succession. For secure council tenancies created after April 1st 2012 there is no right of a family member to succeed, unless the tenancy agreement allows for it.
The mistake by the Policy Exchange is not realising that succession tenancies count as new tenancies in the turnover statistics.
I know of no statistics for turnover of successor tenancies but it is bound to reduce the numbers quoted, that is unless, if the policy Exchange are to defend their figures, they are proposing to abolish the property and inheritance rights of surviving tenants meaning that private householders could pass on tenancies but social tenants could not, something which would almost certainly breach the right to property provisions of the european convention on human rights.
How curious to see a conservative think tank, and Grant Shapps, proposing to reduce the property rights based on wealth and wealth alone.
Telegraph Reports on the recovery in profits of major housebuilders.
falling land values saw builders forced to write down the value of their vast land banks dramatically.
Balance sheets were decimated, with several private players taken out. In response, the sector embarked on heavy cost-cutting, through lay-offs and painful austerity drives.
But today the industry’s greatest weakness – its exposure to land values – is as a strength, as it feels the benefit of building on land bought after the housing downturn, which meant it was cheaper.
“It is the biggest factor [in the recovery],” says Mark Clare, chief executive at Barratt. “We are not getting much help from the market. It’s really down to new land coming through.”
In its most recent financial year, more than a third of the homes Barratt sold were built on this newer land. This year, it should be over half. That translates into bigger profits.
The new plots also tend to be better placed than the older stock, both in location and make-up. The industry is focusing on the market in the South and isolated hot-spots, moving out of slower northern and Midland areas where prices are more depressed.
“Replacing a written down site in the North with no margins with a site in the South… by definition, profitability will improve,” says David Ritchie, chief executive at Bovis.
A clear failure of local planning has been in those types of cases where something needs to be provided as a public service but it becomes politically impossible to approve the application. Indeed some types of application seems to have a near 100% local refusal rate even where the local council itself is proposing the scheme.
Top of the list would be Gypsy and Traveller Sites and Incinerators.
I have worried about the best means of sealing with these over the years but I worry no more. A solution has been found for the latter and it can easily be applied to the former.
The solution is a PPP deal with private sector waste providers who are contractually obliged to obtain planning consent and build. Naturally the bidders dont want to apply for planning consent and then see it turned down despite an officer recommendation for approval in line with waste policy.
This approach is being used up and down the country and now we are seeing a steady stream of appeal decisions including some call ins – in places such as Shrewsbury and Shepsted.
These have of course been controversial with cmapiagners expressing outrage that councils are paying for appeals against their own refusal. But put it another way, councils are simply paying to put their money where there mouth is and pay to uphold their own policy. It is a form of insurance against cases where the disfunctional playing to the gallery weakness of the planning committee system operates.
This is not to state that in any one of these cases this is the best waste solution. But if the local council has decided democratically on a waste solution then it should be followed through.
So if this approach works (in terms of delivering strategy) for waste why not apply it to that other famously dysfunctional category of applications, Gypsys and Travellers. Lets imagine some future government reinstated the policy of requiring site provision. And in a parallel to the landfill tax withdrew huge sections of support grant if not delivered. Councils could then let out contracts to RSLs and other to provide those sites with the Councils forced to cover any appeal costs.
We already have experience that it would work.