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The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) is calling for a new, ground-breaking piece of legislation to transform the quality of new homes in England.

The proposals would force ministers to make sure that all new housing meets ten quality, safety and placemaking ‘principles’, attributes the organisation claims collectively constitute a ‘decent’ home.

Principles put forward in the organisation’s draft ‘Healthy Homes Bill’ include a requirement that new housing is built to be safe from the risk of fire, includes adequate living space and is located within a short walk of children’s play spaces.

The call for this new legislation is a response to research the TCPA undertook with University College London (UCL), which in one case study found that, using permitted development rights, a developer had increased the number of flats in a building by 33% upon what was declared within their ‘prior approval’ application, potentially leading to overcrowding and preventing the local authority from planning to meet the needs of residents. In another example, researchers discovered a two-bed flat, again built using permitted development, having only one small window.

This announcement coincides with the centenary of the Housing and Town Planning Act 1919, a key piece of legislation which helped transform the quality and delivery of council housing, giving ordinary people a decent home.

Fiona Howie, chief executive of the TCPA, said “There is a need for more homes but it is essential that they are of a high quality. Too often that is not the case. The very worst examples we have seen have come through the deregulated conversion of old office blocks and storage facilities into housing units. The creation of these cramped and substandard housing units is even more scandalous given what we know about the impact of housing conditions on people’s health and well-being. Poor quality, badly designed housing damages people’s life chances.

“In the rush to build more homes quality and safety is being overlooked. Surely everyone should agree that is unacceptable? We have gone backwards over the last 100 years. The Healthy Homes Act will help make sure that new homes built today leave a positive legacy. We know there is cross party political support for new homes and we hope there will be cross party support for this vital piece of new legislation to help transform the kinds of homes and places we are creating now and for future generations.”

A OnePoll survey commissioned by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) found that while reception of the apprenticeship levy looks positive, findings indicate concern for the more immediate pipeline of skilled workers in the construction industry.

Findings in brief

  • 42% of construction workers feel more confidence for the growing talent pool as a result of apprenticeship levy
  • 43% have felt a positive impact from apprenticeship levy
  • However, there are still concerns over skills available in UK as 56% think Government and construction workers should help skilled workers from abroad remain post-Brexit
  • 86% of construction workers agree that businesses should focus on skills and abilities for new hires

Is the levy working?

Though the apprenticeship levy only came into force in April 2017, indicators show that it has been well received so far. 43% of construction workers have noticed a positive impact and 42% say that they feel more confident in the growing talent pool as a result of the levy.

Since the introduction of the Levy, a third (36%) have noticed an increase in the number of apprentices employed, and 30% have also seen an increase in the number of apprenticeship applicants, although 15% said they now have more paperwork to fill in. And it would seem those in the south of England are the most positive about the levy, with more than the national average reporting positive impact. This rose to almost two thirds (63%) of construction workers in London and over half (52%) in the South West.
Are apprenticeships enough?

However, while the long-term talent pipeline outlook looks promising, there are concerns over home-grown talent being able to fulfil the demand for skills needed in the construction industry in the shorter term. Output in the construction market is expected to grow over the next 12 months, yet 53% of construction workers say that labour shortages are an issue for business.

With a predicted 8% of the UK’s construction workforce made up of European nationals[2], over half (56%) of construction workers across all levels feel that construction companies and Government should work together to ensure skilled workers in the sector can remain in the UK. This rises to over two thirds (66%) in London and is most keenly felt among senior and middle managers in construction (71% and 67%, respectively).

An RICS report found that 30% of construction professionals said that hiring non-UK workers was important to the success of their businesses. And this shows when it comes to priorities for hiring within the industry.

Barry Cullen, RICS Future Talent Director said “It is great to see such a positive reaction to the apprenticeship levy from the industry so early on and RICS is working with members and employers on schools programmes, to engage and inspire more young people into surveying, to fill a more diverse pipeline of talent. Encouraging the next generation and ensuring there is fresh and skilled talent to meet the demands of the future is vital to any industry’s success, and it’s clear that the construction industry is united in this belief.

“However, with Britain set to leave the European market we must ensure that we are not left in a skills vacuum. An estimated 176,000 EU citizens are employed in the construction business, so it is vital that government and businesses work together to ensure they are able to remain or risk leaving the industry short of the people they need.”

MP Kit Malthouse has admitted that the Government will fail to keep its 2015 election promise to build 200,000 starter homes by 2020.

In 2016, the Government allocated £1.2 billion to the ‘starter homes’ programme, which aimed to build 200,000 properties exclusively for first-time buyers at a 20% discount on their market value.

When asked how many starter homes had been build since 2016, the housing minister stated: “At the moment, none”.

The National Federation of Builders (NFB) is not entirely surprised at the failure of the starter homes programme. Since its inception in 2015, they have asked ministers and civil servants how we can deliver homes under this scheme, but have not received any response or support.

Whilst many might appreciate Malthouse’s clarification that the scheme is a failure and has built no homes in four years, the lack of transparency remains worrying and feeds into wider concerns that developers have with the Government and local authorities, who do not appreciate how damaging lack of certainty is to SME house builders.

The starter homes programme could have delivered some planning certainty, as it would have added work to local pipelines. But Malthouse’s admission explains why developers were not sure how they could get involved with starter homes.

Richard Beresford, chief executive of the NFB, said “This is bad news for the UK’s housing market and exposes the poor level of trust in relations between the Government and SME house builders. The Government must rethink how it should work with the wider industry, and not just a few volume house builders. It must figure out whether it really wants to build affordable homes or just win plaudits for acknowledging the problem and appearing to try.”

Rico Wojtulewicz, head of housing and planning policy for the House Builders Association (HBA), said “The Government has let SMEs down by promising a scheme that we were best suited to deliver but never engaging with us to deliver it. As refreshing as Malthouse’s honesty is, it comes too late particularly as starter homes were included in the most recent revision to planning policy.

“House builders are doing everything in their power to fix the housing crisis. It would be great if the Government shared our commitment.”

Plans for public-sector land to be developed, which aim to bring forward 10,000 new homes, 14,000 new jobs and save taxpayers £37million in running costs.

Development plans which could see more than 10,000 new homes built across England and 14,000 new jobs created by 2024/25 are to be brought forward through a £15million government project.

The One Public Estate programme was launched in 2013 to make better use of public-sector sites, free up space for new homes and create jobs.

It encourages the emergency services, local councils and government departments to work more closely together by sharing sites and creating public-sector ‘hubs’ – where services are delivered in one place. So far, the programme has saved taxpayers £24million in running costs, created 5,745 new jobs and released land for the development of 3,336 new homes.

The latest round of the programme will see money and support given to more than 100 local public-sector partnerships across England, to bring forward proposals for a range of new projects on public-sector sites.

These include:

  • £680,000 for projects in Waltham Forest, including proposals to bring forward the redevelopment of the 100-year-old Whipps Cross Hospital and sites in public and private ownership for housing development in the Forest Road Corridor
  • £505,000 for projects in Devon and Torbay, including the regeneration of land around St David’s station in Exeter
  • £405,000 for projects in Northamptonshire, including plans to release land around Kettering railway station for the development of new houses and station improvements
  • £410,000 for projects in Worcestershire, including delivering new housing and regeneration around Redditch station, as part of the Rail Quarter development

The Minister for Implementation, Oliver Dowden, said “Getting the best use out of publicly-owned land can help to regenerate our towns and cities and give people improved access to the services they need.

“This programme shows that when government works smarter, with public authorities coming together, taxpayers get better value for money, new jobs are created and space is freed-up for vitally needed new homes.”

The One Public Estate programme is a joint initiative between the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and the Local Government Association. It now covers 95% of all local authority areas in England.

Funding for the latest round of the programme will help with the creation of feasibility studies and masterplans for the potential development sites.

It is hoped the work will bring forward savings of £37million in public-sector running costs and allow the redevelopment of a large number of brownfield sites.

The Minister of State for Housing, Kit Malthouse, added “This government is committed to helping more people get on the housing ladder and restoring the dream of home ownership for a new generation. The One Public Estates programme will not only help more people find a home of their own, but also help create jobs and save taxpayers’ money.

“The latest projects to share £15million of funding will make a real difference to local communities and provide better services to residents.”

Lord Porter, Chairman of the Local Government Association, concluded “I’m pleased to see One Public Estate continue to grow from strength to strength. This latest round will see the programme now deliver more than 650 projects in total, all of which support councils to work with the wider public sector to deliver the best public services and place for their local communities.

“The delivery of new homes remains a national priority and with 95% of councils now part of the programme. It’s clear to see that local government remains committed to building the right homes for the places they serve.”

Homes England recently set out how they intend to improve housing affordability through a new five-year Strategic Plan – helping more people access better homes in areas where they are needed most. Buildingspecifier takes a look:

The government plan, which runs up to 2022/23, outlines an ambitious new mission and the steps the national housing agency will take, in partnership with all parts of the housing industry sector, to respond to the long-term housing challenges facing the country.

The new plan sets out far-reaching delivery objectives:

  • Unlock public and private land where the market will not, to get more homes built where they are needed
  • Ensure a range of investment products are available to support housebuilding and infrastructure, including more affordable housing and homes for rent, where the market is not acting
  • Improve construction productivity
  • Create a more resilient and competitive market by supporting smaller builders and new entrants, and promoting better design and higher quality homes
  • Offer expert support for priority locations, helping to create and deliver more ambitious plans to get more homes built
  • Effectively deliver home ownership products, providing an industry standard service to consumers

Speaking about the updated plans, Communities Secretary Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP said “This government is committed to delivering 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s and help more people get on the housing ladder. Homes England is at the heart of these plans.

“I welcome their comprehensive vision that sets out how through their powers and expertise they will maximise Government investment to deliver the homes communities need.”

Sir Edward Lister, Homes England Chairman, added “Ultimately, we need to disrupt the housing market. Homes England plans to be bold, creative and think big. We hope the whole of the housing sector – big and small, up and down the country – will join us for the next five years and beyond.”

Nick Walkley, Homes England Chief Executive, concluded “The new Homes England is all about making homes happen – and our new 5-year plan sets out our ambitious new approach. We are committing to boosting housing supply, productivity, innovation, quality, skills and modern methods of construction to help make a more diverse and resilient market. In return, we are calling for partners and the wider industry who share our ambition to challenge traditional norms and build better homes faster.”

The five-year Strategic Plan follows the Budget announcement of seven more strategic partnerships with housing associations, which will deliver an additional 13,475 affordable homes by March 2022.

The new partnerships will secure a total of £653m in funding from the Affordable Homes Programme, delivered through Homes England, including homes for social rent in areas of high affordability pressures.

This is in addition to the first eight strategic partnership deals announced in early July, bringing the total number of additional affordable homes that will be delivered to 27,755.

Building attractive and better-designed homes in areas where they are needed is at the centre of new planning rules published by Secretary of State Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP this week.

The new rules will also make it easier for councils to challenge poor quality and unattractive development, and give communities a greater voice about how developments should look and feel.

The revised National Planning Policy Framework follows a public consultation launched by the Prime Minister earlier this year to provide a comprehensive approach for planners, developers and councils to build more homes, more quickly and in the places where people want to live.

Revised National Planning Policy Framework

The new rule book will focus on:

  • promoting high quality design of new homes and places
  • stronger protection for the environment
  • building the right number of homes in the right places
  • greater responsibility and accountability for housing delivery from councils and developers

Secretary of State for Communities, Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP said “Fundamental to building the homes our country needs is ensuring that our planning system is fit for the future.

“This revised planning framework sets out our vision of a planning system that delivers the homes we need. I am clear that quantity must never compromise the quality of what is built, and this is reflected in the new rules.

“We have listened to the tens of thousands of people who told us their views, making this a shared strategy for development in England.”

Ministers have been clear on their ambition to achieve 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s, which follows 217,000 homes built last year, the biggest increase in housing supply in England for almost a decade.

The new rules will see 85 of the proposals set out in the housing white paper and the Budget, implemented in the new National Planning Policy Framework.

Promoting high quality design of new homes and places

Refocusing on the quality and design of proposals which are in line with what local communities want, the framework ensures councils have the confidence and tools to refuse permission for development that does not prioritise design quality and does not complement its surroundings.

With an emphasis on engaging with communities and allowing residents to see proposed development before it’s even built, the new framework encourages councils to make use of innovative new visual tools to promote better design and quality, which will also make sure new homes fit in with their surroundings.

Adopted neighbourhood plans will demonstrate clear local leadership in design quality, with the framework allowing groups seeking such plans to truly reflect the community’s expectations on how new development will visually contribute to their area.

Whilst the framework sets the strategic direction for driving up new build quality, it will remain up to councils to apply these polices in the most appropriate way in their area, recognising that they are well placed to know their area’s unique character and setting.

To maximise the use of land we are promoting more effective use of the land available and giving councils more confidence to refuse applications that don’t provide enough homes.

Stronger protection for the environment

The new framework has also been updated to provide further protection for biodiversity; ensuring wildlife thrives at the same time as addressing the need for new homes.

Changes to the framework see the planning system align more closely with Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan, which aims to leave the environment in a better state for future generations. This includes more protection for habitats, and places greater importance on air quality when deciding development proposals.

It provides strengthened protection for ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees across England, ensuring they can be retained for the benefit of future generations.

Whilst giving councils real flexibility to make the most of their existing brownfield land, the revised framework makes sure they exhaust all other reasonable options for development before looking to alter a Green Belt boundary.

The government has more explicitly outlined the protection of the Green Belt in England, explaining the high expectations and considerable evidence that would be needed to alter any boundary.

Building the right number of homes in the right places

To help tackle unaffordable house prices in many areas across the country, the framework sets out a new way for councils to calculate the housing need of their local community (including different forms of housing, such as older people’s retirement homes).

This new methodology aims to deliver more homes in the places where they are most needed, based on factors including the affordability of existing homes for people on lower and medium incomes.

Greater responsibility and accountability for housing delivery from councils and developers

From November 2018 councils will have a Housing Delivery Test focused on driving up the numbers of homes actually delivered in their area, rather than how many are planned for.

In addition, to make sure that the necessary infrastructure and affordable housing is delivered to support communities, clearer guidance for both developers and councils will also be published this week.

Meaning that developers will know what is expected of them up front, even before they submit a planning application and councils have greater power to hold them to these commitments.

Ministers today called on industry to embrace the latest innovations to make sure we are building the good quality homes that our country needs.

As part of the government’s focus on fixing the broken housing market and its ambition of delivering 300,000 new homes in England by the mid-2020s, it’s essential that the quality and design of new housing is addressed. This can help secure support from communities for new homes, and make sure we have good quality homes that people can feel proud living in and next-door to.

Recent research shows that more than 7 out of 10 people would support new residential development if buildings are well-designed and in keeping with their local area.

Action to boost innovative approaches for well-designed new homes include:

£1 billion investment through the Home Building Fund to develop new, modern approaches to design and construction

To date, 8 projects across 11 local authorities, backed by government funding, will use modern methods of construction such as modular homes to build good quality homes, using the latest techniques, whilst helping to speed up housing delivery.

Learning from other countries like Australia, Norway and Sweden where good design is embedded in decision making

For example, based on an Australian model, the government will urge councils to set their own design quality standards, giving communities the ability to better reflect their own unique character in local planning policy.

Embracing new technologies

For example using Virtual Reality (VR) technology to win the confidence of communities before a single brick is laid. By visualising proposed new housing from the neighbour or homebuyer’s perspective, communities will be able to see how development can visually contribute to the area from an early stage, even before planning permission has been granted.

Housing Secretary Sajid Javid said “Our homes are the making of all of us, which is why today’s event on raising the bar on the quality of new homes is so important.

“This government is determined to make sure that high quality design is the norm rather than the exception.”

Housing Minister Dominic Raab added “We are putting high-quality design on the map as never before when it comes to building better homes and stronger communities.

“Today’s conference marks an important milestone in that journey.”

Industry leaders, including local authority planners, developers and design professionals, attended the Design Quality Conference to share their expertise to ensure how homes look becomes just as important as the number delivered.

Ministers made it clear that they intend to focus on how developers can use better quality design in order to win over both communities and new generations of first-time buyers, who expect the highest quality homes before parting with their hard-earned deposits.

When things go wrong, the government has also proposed strengthening ways for homebuyers to complain when their home hasn’t been built satisfactorily – with these new measures recently being subject to a consultation.

The event will build on previous government action to ensure new homes are built using quality materials and design methods, as set out in the recently published draft National Planning Policy Framework.

The document, which is currently out to consultation, outlines requirements for design guides and codes to feature prominently in new Local Plans, significant consideration to be given to existing local character as well as setting out the density of developments that meet the needs and expectations of the community.

The conference also included speakers from the Royal Institute of British Architects, Stephen Lawrence Trust, The Princes Foundation, Historic England and Homes England as well as other experts with experience in delivering excellent build quality for new and existing communities.

According to the UK Space Agency, the government aims to enable Commercial Spaceflight from UK spaceports by 2020. As privatised commercial space travel moves closer towards becoming a reality, buildingspecifier takes a look at what role the construction industry will play in delivering spaceports throughout the country.

What is a spaceport?

A spaceport (or cosmodrome) is a site for launching and receiving spacecraft. The word spaceport, and even more so cosmodrome, has traditionally been used for sites that are capable of launching spacecraft into orbit around Earth or on interplanetary trajectories.

Major spaceports often include more than one launch complex, which can be rocket launch sites adapted for different types of launch vehicles. For launch vehicles with liquid propellant, suitable storage facilities and, in some cases, production facilities are necessary. On-site processing facilities for solid propellants are also common.

A spaceport may also include runways for takeoff and landing of aircraft to support spaceport operations, or to enable support of HTHL or HTVL winged launch vehicles.

Making UK spaceports a reality

So the UK has set its sights upon being the best place in Europe for space flight operations, now it is time to put its money where its mouth is. After all, sending humans and satellites into space requires effort, money, dedication and sacrifice.

The target to deliver commercial space flight from UK spaceports by 2020 is equally as dependent on the construction industry as it is on scientific and technological advancements. Without cutting edge sites being constructed or repurposed for the purpose of space travel, there will be no space travel. In order to tackle this issue, the UK Space Agency is offering grant funding of up to £10 million (possibly even more in exceptional cases) to encourage those wishing to develop spaceport operations. Proposals must be submitted by joint enterprises, consisting of at least one potential UK spaceport and one small-satellite launch or sub-orbital flight operator. Applicants need to propose a business plan on how they intend to launch small satellites or sub-orbital flights, including space tourism, microgravity flights or spaceplanes, from the UK by 2020. All applications for this funding must be submitted by 28 April 2017.

Once completed, the new Spaceflight Bill will expand further upon the regulatory framework for building and operating spaceports on British soil.

Mike Pocock is a planning law expert from Pinsent Masons, an international law firm which specialises in the energy, infrastructure, financial services, real estate and advanced manufacturing and technology sectors. He commented “The space industry represents a huge opportunity for the UK, with potentially significant economic benefits.
“The reality of spaceflight from the UK is closer than many think, and there is currently momentum to develop a number of ‘spaceports’ which will be critical infrastructure if the UK is to be able to send satellites as well as, potentially, space tourists into space.”

“Applications for grant funding by potential spaceports and operators were made earlier this year to UK Space, and the results of these are expected later this summer. The timing of the announcement in the Queen’s Speech therefore could not be better. These are exciting times for the UK space industry.”

In an interview with the BBC, Chairman of umbrella group UKSpace Richard Peckham, said “The UK Space Industry faces an incredibly challenging time as the country navigates its way out of the European Union.”

“For the UK industry to thrive in this new environment, it is essential that the whole sector: government, academia and industry, continue to work in partnership with a steady focus on innovation and growth, with government ready to procure and promote British products and services.”

More communities across England will be able to get free access to expert advice and guidance to help make their neighbourhood vision a reality, Housing Minister Dominic Raab has announced.

A £23 million fund – being delivered by Locality and Groundwork – will help local groups to develop a neighbourhood plan. These plans give local people a say in the development of their area, including where homes, schools and businesses should be built, how they should look and what infrastructure is needed to support them.

Community groups will be able to access a range of free help including financial support and latest planning expertise from trained professionals, to guide them through the process of preparing a neighbourhood plan.

Housing and Planning Minister Dominic Raab said “Neighbourhood plans are a powerful tool to help communities shape their local area, making sure the right homes are built in the right places.

“It’s vital that communities have the right support and advice available to help deliver a plan that meets their own ambitious aspirations. That’s why I’m making £23 million available that will help more groups to do this.”

Over 2,300 communities across England have started the process of neighbourhood planning, with 530 plans approved in local referendums.

Previous government support has helped around 7 out of 10 of these communities progress their plans, with 365 neighbourhood plans finalised using support provided by the government.

The maximum grant available has also been increased by £2,000 to £17,000, helping communities to access more resources to develop a plan for their area.

A £45 million cash injection into key community projects will help kick-start the building of thousands of new homes, Housing Minister Dominic Raab has announced.

As part of government’s drive to get Britain building homes again, a total of 79 projects from Newcastle to Plymouth will receive funding to support building up to 7,280 homes on council owned land.

To support local councils to meet their ambition to unlock enough of land they own for at least 160,000 homes by 2020, they will be able to use the Land Release Fund money to combat barriers which would otherwise make land unusable for development.

The projects – which aim to support building strong communities – include a range of necessary works such as asbestos removal and bat alleviation, as well as schemes that will significantly improve quality of life such as essential relocating of a pelican crossing.

This move comes 2 weeks after the projects set to benefit from the first wave of funding from the £5 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund were announced, helping to get up to 200,000 homes off the ground through investment in local housing projects. This is part of the government’s comprehensive strategy of planning reform and targeted investment to build 300,000 homes a year.

Housing and Planning Minister Dominic Raab said “We are investing £45 million to build roads and provide utilities, so councils can release the land to get up to 7,280 new homes built.

“It’s part of our strategy to build the homes Britain needs, and carry local communities with us.

“We’re determined to make buying or renting more affordable for young families and those on low or middle incomes.”