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Wednesday23 August 2017

Derbyshire calls for 'more clarity' on 1 million homes plan

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RIBA president elect and profession give cautious welcome to housebuilding boost

RIBA president elect Ben Derbyshire called on the government to provide more detail on how its new plans for housing are set to be delivered.

Speaking in a personal capacity, Derbyshire said there was a sense of “irony” that it took a decision such as Brexit to spur the government into delivering more homes.

Derbyshire said: “From a political standpoint, there is an argument for saying hallelujah. If this new pragmatism reflects a new ability to listen to the experts then it is entirely to be welcomed. This kind of thing is what the experts have been saying for some time now.

“There’s a certain irony that the Cameron government which brought Brexit upon us were completely inured to the argument that more subsidy should be made available to create mixed neighbourhoods - they sustained that position through thick and thin.

“Now, Theresa May’s government has opened up the possibility for more subsidy and borrowing to facilitate housing development precisely because of the threat to our economy bought about by Brexit.”

But he said he had some concerns: “Where are the transportation nodes? How are the numbers which are predicted worked into the local plans. You need to get down to the nitty gritty of these announcements in the forthcoming white paper.”

Derbyshire’s comments come as the architectural profession digests the latest policy news from the government. Under plans announced by chancellor Philip Hammond and communities secretary Sajid Javid the government will provide up to £5bn of investment in housing. From this funding, £2bn will be allocated to help speed up building on public land, as well as providing a £3bn loan fund for smaller housebuilders which have found access to credit difficult since the financial crisis.

Seth Rutt, partner at Hawkins\Brown called for a covenant on the amount of affordable housing to be provided on the brownfield scheme: “Invariably, in order to put forward a competitive offer with a chance of securing a site, developers will bid on land assuming a lower amount of affordable than straight policy dictates, relying on a viability argument to reduce it.

“If the playing field could be levelled as far as the affordable provision goes, then at least tax payers money can go towards housing those in need rather than stimulating private sale homes that the ‘squeezed middle, millennials and generation Z (now known as generation D) have no hope of buying.”

Though welcoming the news, Andrew Waugh, director of Waugh Thistleton Architects cautioned that high-speed home building couldn’t jeopardise quality for quantity: “Potentially this is great news. However, it is imperative that this push for new housing is not done at the expense of quality, the un-housed or of the environment.

“Essentially our local planning departments need to be adequately funded to ensure quality and affordability so that future generations don’t suffer from a short term headline “get housed quick” policy!”

Architects have also questioned how the government plans to stimulate small housebuilders with the new £3bn fund, in particular how the use of off-site construction methods would benefit smaller housebuilders who qualify for the fund and mostly use traditional methods for their projects.

Alex Ely, principal at Mae Architects said: “At last we see a commitment from Government to support more suppliers to the market. Custom build and SME builders make up around 50% of suppliers in other European countries and yet we have a supply chain in the UK dominated by just a few players.

“As well as financial support Government should ensure that the ‘Home Building Fund’ and the ‘Accelerated Construction’ programme give access for SMEs and Custom builders to land opportunities. This will help break the stranglehold that the PLCs have on supply.

“Almost every housing minister has seen modern methods of construction as the panacea for our housing supply. If the announced support helps underwrite the risk and cost of setting up new MMC factories and systems then this is very welcome.”

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