The report of LHG’s joint fringe meeting at Annual Conference with SERA, Labour’s environment campaign group, CPRE (Campaign for the Protection of Rural England) and the Federation of Master Builders heard about a range of linked housing and environmental issues.
Alex Cunningham MP (Shadow Housing Minister) spoke about the importance of tackling both issues together. We would add to the environmental crisis through poorly-planned and executed house-building. Labour will prioritise zero carbon homes, and a return to the standards set out by Labour in 2006 designed to produce more energy efficient building construction. Housing estates would also be expected to contain facilities within the immediate area.
Nicky Gavron (London Assembly, Planning Committee past chair) explained the benefits of modular (off-site) construction (OSC) for building new homes more rapidly, quietly, and efficiently and with better energy efficiency than in the past. Today’s OSC houses are precision-designed, engineered and manufactured. The model lends itself to small manufacturing and construction and could revitalise our building industry and the jobs on offer to a new generation of building workers, and could add weight to a green industrial revolution in the UK.
Lois Lane (CPRE Housing Campaigns Officer) focused on the need for more homes to be built in rural areas in order to reduce housing need and homelessness, whilst at the same time reducing carbon emissions and increasing energy efficiency and making all villages sustainable. Retrofitting existing homes is needed as well as new build, given that some homes are currently empty because they are too costly to heat. Some rural Housing Associations are leading the way, but the key to sustainability is also good, cheap transport, and affordable land.
Brian Berry (FMB Chief Executive) highlighted the fact that 77% of all homes in the UK are built by the big developers whilst over half of all small builders are house-builders. There is a lack of political commitment to tackle the current barriers to house-building, including the under-resourcing of planning teams in local authorities, and the critical shortage of a skilled workforce. Surprising many in the audience, Brian pointed out that there is no licensing system for builders in the UK: anyone can say they are a builder, and there is no quality or accreditation system other than the rather limited building regulations system.
Helen Hayes MP (Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee) spoke about the huge gap between the ambition to eliminate carbon emissions from residential buildings by 2030 and the plans for making that a reality. To get closer to the goal, the planning system needs to be made a tool for good, and we need affordable land prices.
The discussion following the speakers’ presentations focused on the need for:
- Incentives for retrofitting, such as reducing Council Tax
- A code of ethics for builders
- A wider cross-section of builders and some redress for poor quality work
- Rural transport and re-regulation of transport services
- A rethink about terraced housing, and reduced building of high rise blocks
- Changing the model so that building of “affordable” housing is not done by the large house-builders alongside their large new estates
- Rethinking the recruitment of the house-building workforce
A video of the fringe meeting can be viewed here.