I beg to move,
That this House has considered new housing design.
Good morning, Sir David. It is great to serve under your chairmanship. Britain needs more homes; I think we all agree on that. Rising house prices have made building more houses a social and economic imperative, so it is vital that we get the design and quality of these new homes right. I will make two points in my speech. I will argue that the majority of new homes should be built in a high-quality traditional design, so that they are popular with the public. Secondly, I will call for the creation of a new homes ombudsman, to give homebuyers redress for any problems with their new homes, to ensure the highest possible standards.
There was one policy in the Conservative election manifesto that I dare say I was delighted to recommend to everyone, unlike one or two others in the manifesto. We committed to building
“better houses, to match the quality of those we have inherited from previous generations. That means supporting high-quality, high-density housing like mansion blocks, mews houses and terraced streets.”
That commitment really stood out to me.
As someone who was a member of a planning committee for nearly 12 years, I know just how terrified some communities are of new development—not necessarily because people are nimbys but because they have seen how developments in the last 50 years have left communities with homes that are totally unsuitable for their area. That is backed by hard evidence. A recent survey of 2,000 British adults showed that a whopping 81% are unenthused about living in new build housing developments. What is more, 60% feel there are too many unattractive, poorly built new builds popping up across the country. Older properties and streetscapes in a traditional design are, on the whole, much more popular.
I agree with every word that my hon. Friend has said so far. Does he agree that it is possible to have attractive houses that have no net energy bills during the course of the year? That is not fantasy. The Building Research Establishment has proved that such houses can be built, and it has examples of them. Does he agree that we should go further down that route, to have not only attractive houses but houses that do not have energy bills?
My hon. Friend makes a very interesting point. Houses need to be attractive not only architecturally; they are very attractive to live in if people will not have energy bills. That also, of course, reduces our commitment to produce energy as a country, so it makes our power stations and gas supply go a lot further. He makes a really good point that I very much endorse.
The survey showed that over two fifths of people feel that new build homes lack character and are an eyesore in the local community. Those are shocking statistics. We will never build support for new homes when people fear new housing designs. The latest research from the Department for Communities and Local Government shows that over half of households would be less opposed to new house building if they had more say over the design and layout of developments.
A separate poll for Ipsos MORI shows that design clearly influences public support for new build homes. When people were asked about their local area, housing designs in traditional form and style commanded about 75% support. Less traditional development styles commanded very low support, from about a fifth to a third of those polled. The message is clear: people want and are happy to accept new housing if it has the right design, and if developers take local people with them when producing new designs.
We cannot go back to the mistakes of the ’60s and ’70s, when ugly modernist designs were imposed on communities, damaging trust in new housing for a generation. Of course, some of those properties proved not really fit for purpose, and some have actually had to come down. I say to the Minister that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and we only have one chance to get it right. We must build new housing in the right way, with designs and forms sympathetic to local areas.
My hon. Friend is making a really strong case for something that is terribly important. Does he agree that it is right to cater for all types of people? New homes are quite often very much built for young families, but in Somerset, the number of people over 75 will double within a decade. Is it not right that we should consider purpose-built, well-designed developments for them—low-level houses, with sliding doors, that look attractive, are perhaps modular and fit in with the vernacular? Is it not essential to put that into the whole planning process?
My hon. Friend makes a really good point. We can still have a reasonably traditional design and regional design that also fits into the new type of living we want. Older people may well need wheelchair access, wider doors and all sorts of things in these properties, and those can be fitted in. Our housing almost fits into categories—affordable homes, homes for young people or homes for the elderly—but it should be a complete mix. When we have a complete mix within the design, we can then get it right. Traditionally, we would not have had one type of housing all put together; my hon. Friend makes a good point.
We must build new housing in the right way, with designs and forms sympathetic to local areas. Ruth Davidson hit the nail on the head when she recently wrote:
“The biggest ally we have in increasing housing supply is beauty—if new houses complement the local environment and avoid the disastrous design choices of the past we can help build sustainable local support for extra construction.”
I must say, as a Scottish MP, that I found it rather ironic last week when Ruth Davidson talked about investment in housing and was looking to see if she might be getting the polish out for her brass neck; the Conservative party has left a massive social housing crisis in Scotland as a result of the disastrous right to buy. That has only been helped by the abolition of right to buy by the Scottish National party Government in Scotland.
I have not had enough direct experience of what the hon. Gentleman is talking about in Scotland, so I do not intend to answer his question. As far as I am concerned, Ruth Davidson does a very good job—but he would expect me to say that, would he not? She is right; good-quality design will boost support for development and then encourage further growth. I would like to give a special mention to the social enterprise Create Streets. It has done fantastic work in the past three years to encourage the development of quality town and city homes. Its focus is on terraced streets of housing and apartments, rather than complex multi-storey buildings. We know that these designs are popular with the public.
So how do we achieve this? The key is strong community engagement. The tools are already there in the form of neighbourhood plans and design codes, but we need to ensure that neighbourhood plans are not then overruled by local district councils and others who decide that they still know best. I want to ensure that local people get a real input into the design. A design code is a set of drawn design rules that instruct and advise on the physical development of an area. Used well, they create certainty about what should be built, but they are not enough used. Local people should be given the encouragement and resources to create neighbourhood plans with their own design codes, and then, like I said, to actually put the plan in place. They could then plan the sort of development they want in their local area. This would have two main benefits: it would improve the quality of our housing stock and give local communities a stake and a sense of civic pride in the new development. They would be buying into the new development, and we need that to happen more.
Shelter recently published a report, “New Civic Housebuilding: A better way to build the homes we need”, with practical solutions for building high-quality, popular and affordable homes. It recommended a strong master planning process so that local groups, landowners and residents could influence the design of new housing in the area, which in turn will build public support.
The Royal Institute of British Architects has also recommended that every neighbourhood forum or parish council should have the funding to develop a design code for their area. This is a good idea. The village of Membury in my constituency has drawn up its own local plan; the problem is that the local district council is trying to overrule it. That is where the Government’s ideas are right. We must make sure that Membury can get its way because it had a local referendum and has done all the right things, but its plan is still being scuppered by the local district council. Imagine how this idea could stimulate interest in local design of housing and really boost support for new housing in towns and cities in England and across the country.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. Does he agree that if we want local people to engage properly in the manner he is describing, which is absolutely right, it is critical that their decisions, guidance and local plans are not overruled by remoter bodies over which they have very little control?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. A developer may put an exciting design on the table but then, further along the line, may decide that due to economic or other circumstance they cannot build to that specification; or they may suddenly drop a water park that was in the specification. That is when people become cynical, which is why, when things are put forward and local people have an input, we need to build what they decided on, not something that is foisted upon them.
Developers need certainty about the standards they must hit instead of the current race to the bottom. Local people must have confidence that developers will build to their plans. A new town, Sherford, is being built in Devon, and in Cullompton a proposed garden village will have a water park and a lot of green open space. What I have seen so far is very exciting, but I want to make sure that the developers do what they say they will do, because it is a great example of how design should be done with a design code and proper consultation. However, the developers have now applied to change the town code to mere guidelines. That would be a retrograde step and must not be allowed to happen around the UK.
When communities come together to influence local housing design, they must know that the plans will be implemented. The local authority should amend them only in exceptional circumstances, not because they do not suit its plans for the future. Designs should not be railroaded by big house builders chasing extra profit and deciding that the economics have changed. I have a clear question for the Minister: how are the Government working to meet their manifesto commitment to support high-quality, high-density housing like mansion blocks, mews houses and terraced streets? How are they helping communities to shape design of houses in their local area?
The second part of my speech calls for a new homes ombudsman. The concept is simple: a new ombudsman focusing on complaints about new build homes. I suspect that no Member in the Chamber has not received complaints from constituents about new build. An ombudsman would give new homebuyers redress for any dispute with house builders or warranty providers. I am sure that every Member here today could reel off examples from their own constituency.
In Axminster and particularly Cullompton, in my constituency, there has been a problem with new homes. I name Barratt Homes and its offshoot, David Wilson Homes, not because there have been problems with their houses, but because they have not redressed those problems. They have been reticent to be contacted and difficult to get hold of. They take ages to make repairs, such as to roofs that are not sealed properly, and to wet rendering that is supposed to be damp proof, but is not. There have been all sorts of problems that they do not sort out quickly enough. That is where the new homes ombudsman could have a good effect.
In my constituency, Bellway Homes has been negligent to my constituents. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with my constituents, Mr and Mrs Maine, that
“whilst numerous consumer groups have redress to an independent ombudsman consumers who have bought defective homes have no parity of redress and are therefore being discriminated against by the Government”?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I do not know about the individual case, but I suspect it is similar to those we all get when redress is not available. An ombudsman could intervene directly to get the builder to rectify the situation quickly. That is what the issue is about. Builders often rectify problems eventually, if they have not gone bankrupt in the meantime or used other wheezes to make sure they do not carry out improvements and repairs. If someone buys a new house, they should be able to get quality, and redress if there is a problem. We must accept that when a new home is built, there can be problems with it. I accept that, but there must be proper redress.
Before this debate, I asked members of the public on the House of Commons Facebook page to give examples of problems they have had with their new homes. There was a very strong response. They reported leaky pipes, faulty front doors, abandoned rubble and necessary re-rendering. A whole host of new build problems were raised. The anecdotes were depressing and are backed up by hard evidence. The national new homes customer satisfaction survey showed that an overwhelming 98% of new home buyers had reported snags or defects to the building after moving in. Over four in 10 reported more than 10 faults. That is shocking in a new property.
A new homes ombudsman would provide a great opportunity to look again at the system of warranties and perhaps assurances. As my hon. Friend will know, modern methods of construction offsite would require an assurance rather than a warranty. Is there an opportunity to look at assurances and warranties again and to give consumers the powers that they need to get decent homes and the good build that they require?
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. That quality of assurance rather than a warranty would work much better. The National House Building Council can act, but once a builder has started repairs, it can do no more. If the builder takes a long time to instigate repairs, there is no real redress. That is where there is a role for an ombudsman and an assurance scheme so that building is delivered to a high standard and builders are held accountable. I value that point.
If a customer buys goods in a shop, there is an automatic power of redress, but if someone spends their life savings on a new home, they may struggle for years to get what they paid for. If we make the mistake of erecting millions of poor-quality homes in the next decade, the public will never forgive us. We are building to higher standards, including insulation standards, but we must make sure that houses are designed to fit in with the local area, with regional variations so that one does not see exactly the same designs all over the country, whether in the north of England, Devon, Wales or Scotland. One could almost say, “Well, we’ll have an off-the-peg development,” and all the homes would look the same. I have explained what I want to see in the future, and the cost will not be that much greater if we use a little more imagination as we build.
As things stand, the National House Building Council cannot step in if the builders claim that they are dealing with the problems, and there seems to be no time limit on how long a builder can spend dealing with problems. That is where a new homes ombudsman could step in to close the loophole. That would give a wake-up call to all house builders—many are good, but many are not—to sharpen up their act and build to the design standards and quality that they promised. Builders would know that they could not cut corners, as redress would be swift and exacting.
The all-party parliamentary group for excellence in the built environment, chaired in the last Parliament by my then hon. Friend Oliver Colvile, published a report last year on the quality and workmanship of new housing. Its No. 1 recommendation was for a new homes ombudsman. I think that the screw is beginning to turn on this issue. We need to take action. This country is going to embark on a big house-building drive. Those properties are needed, but we must ensure that they are built in the right way. Let us seize the opportunity and give people the sort of housing designs that they want. I am talking about quality, popular designs, with community backing, and all backed up by a powerful new housing ombudsman. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. It is clear that a number of colleagues wish to speak. The winding-up speeches will start at 12.30 pm. I hope that everyone will bear that in mind and make speeches of four to five minutes at the most.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on raising this issue. It is a really big issue in my city. Those of us who know Cambridgeshire know that the view for people coming across the fens used to be just King’s College chapel and the university library—two different examples of architectural styles—but now they see cranes everywhere. The city is being rebuilt around us. Whether we are building homes that people can afford or repositories of value is perhaps a debate for another day. Today, I want to raise two particular issues, which have already been addressed.
A few weeks ago, I was taken to see a new house in Cambridge. Inevitably it was a very expensive new home. There was a line of houses, and one looked like a building site because the people who had moved in had found so many problems that it had literally needed to be torn apart from the inside—I had never seen anything like it. After they had done it once, they went back in and there were yet more problems, so it has been done twice. Those people have not been able to be in their new home for more than a year; their lives have been wrecked and ruined, and I suspect that the same issues exist elsewhere. I will not name the house builder today, because I live in hope that it may be encouraged to do the decent thing. Exactly as has been suggested, if people get a defective product in any other walk of life, they are given the opportunity to have their money back and go elsewhere. That is what the house builder should have provided in this case, and it should still do that in my view. That is not the only case, as we have heard. I have had others in my constituency, but that one was particularly shocking. I think that this is partly a matter of the attitude from the house builders and how they treat their customers.
If there is an individual problem, there is also a collective problem, because—as has been said—communities feel that they have been disempowered. There has been much talk lately of taking back control. From Cambridge’s perspective, the people in Brussels are pussycats compared with the house builders and developers who, in many people’s view, have not kept their side of the deal. If people come to Cambridge, they will see the new station development. Many promises were made many years ago, but as it goes down the line, things are taken out. Promises were made, and the local council does its best, but it is up against the power of the developers, who are, in many people’s view, letting people down. Right at the end was a delightful Victorian terrace. It would not have been much to ask of the developer to leave that for the people of Cambridge, but no, it had to go as well.
When I asked the former Secretary of State in the Lobby—there are of course many Cambridge people in this place—he shrugged and said, “Well, there’s not much I can do, either.” Talk about no control—the Secretary of State cannot do anything about it. The community cannot do anything about it, and in Cambridge there is no lack of engagement; it is a very engaged community. However, there is an imbalance of power.
The news is not all bad. There are some very good developments that have worked in Cambridge. On Saturday I am joining others to celebrate the opening of a very big new development in north-west Cambridge that has been developed with the University of Cambridge—Eddington. It will be a fantastic new development, particularly for post-doctorates, but I suspect that it has worked partly because the University of Cambridge is also a powerful player and has been able to deal with some of these issues, whereas the local community does not always have the same power.
On the issue of fighting back, I congratulate organisations such as BIMBY—“Not in my back yard” has been rejected by Beauty-In-My-Back-Yard. Organisations such as the Local Government Association and the National Trust are supporting that.
This is not just about engagement, but about the balance of power. That has to be addressed. There needs to be a new settlement between developers and house builders, and their customers and their communities.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on calling the debate and giving so many people the opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns about this matter. I commend also my hon. Friend the Minister for coming today and the work of the Government in trying to innovate in the housing market. I am talking particularly about things such as self-build projects, which the Government have been so good at getting behind. My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) spearheaded a lot of the work in that respect. My constituency will be one of the pilot areas for that, and I am excited to look at the innovative thinking.
There has been a fundamental change in the house building market in this country, but that has not been reflected in any fundamental changes to the way the market is regulated. Most homes in this country are now built by just a handful of house builders—about five or six—and now, more than ever, buyers rely on the Government to ensure that those well designed homes are also built well. I hope that the Minister can update the House today on the work that he is doing to update building regulations, because it is hugely important that they reflect the almost monopolistic market in which we operate.
It is sad to hear that more than half of homebuyers have experienced major problems with their new homes. That was in a YouGov report earlier this year. I would like to reflect briefly on four issues. First, we have to ensure that new design actually works. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton mentioned the report by the all-party parliamentary group for excellence in the built environment, which I have co-chaired. It talked about having in place an ombudsman to ensure that any problems that are experienced—problems are widespread, as we have heard—are mediated and resolved swiftly. Like many other hon. Members present, I have a number of ongoing cases in which major house builders are, frankly, dragging their feet over dealing with major problems with my constituents’ homes, and making their lives hell. That is not good enough.
I am listening with interest to my right hon. Friend’s contribution. Last year, I spoke at the Federation of Master Builders’ annual conference, where the technical guru from the National House Building Council put up some slides of really shoddy workmanship. Interestingly, the largest number of examples of shoddy workmanship came from the largest house builders—the biggest of the top three. Does my right hon. Friend not find that surprising, as those are plainly the businesses that could do more about it if they chose, and is it not now time for the Government to stop the warm words and actually grip this issue?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why an ombudsman would be so important—so that people could get redress. The house builders would know that there was someone holding their feet to the fire and now is the time to act.
My second issue is also about the warranties that house builders give. I think that most people do not realise that not all home warranties are the same. A Premier Guarantee is not the same as one from the NHBC. Consumers do not understand that, and I think that consumers are potentially being misled.
The Minister may know from looking through his in-tray from his predecessor that I campaigned very hard for a change in building control performance standards, because of the problems of inspections of houses on-site being carried out in a shoddy way. New performance standards came in on 1 April this year to reflect that. Will he update the House on how the implementation of those new performance design control standards is going, and in particular the improved role of the inspector?
New houses should promote wellbeing in our community; they should not promote disharmony and concern. As part of that review of building control standards, will the Minister look at a particular issue that has been raised by one of my councillors, Councillor Onnalee Cubitt, about sound insulation in houses? I have written to the Minister about the fact that many new homes have poor sound insulation with plasterboard walls. That is not good design; it is not groundbreaking design. Should he not look at amending part E2 of the building regulations, which sets the standards for sound transmission in homes? I think that those standards currently fall short of what people need in order to have good mental health when living in new homes.
Finally, will the Minister indicate when the Government might respond to the Women and Equalities Committee report on the availability of housing to disabled people? Our report made a number of important recommendations about the availability of housing for disabled people. In particular, as people get old they perhaps get more disabled, as my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) mentioned in her intervention. When will he give me a response on that important set of recommendations?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on securing this debate.
This country faces a housing crisis that is unprecedented since the second world war and getting worse. By the Government’s own admission, the housing market is broken and failing to deliver anything close to the 300,000 homes a year we need to address housing need in the UK. The broken nature of the UK housing market and the Government’s failure to tackle it are stifling the number of new homes being built, but also damaging the quality of those homes that are being built.
Last year the all-party parliamentary group for excellence in the built environment, of which I was vice-chair jointly with the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), undertook an inquiry into the quality of new build homes entitled “More homes, fewer complaints”. The inquiry was undertaken in response to an increase in complaints from people who had purchased a brand new home—the most expensive item that they had ever purchased—only to find when they moved in that there was something seriously wrong with it, such as rising damp, faulty electrics, the drains not being properly connected, or poor quality fixtures and fittings, and the very great difficulty that many people faced when they tried to seek redress. Research by Which? found that under this Government more than half of new homes have serious defects, indicating that this is a widespread and serious problem. Such situations are deeply distressing and completely unacceptable. Not only is the brand new home that someone eagerly anticipated moving into flawed, but the flaws can seriously undermine the quality of day-to-day life and physical and mental health, and can take months or even years to resolve.
The APPG made several recommendations to address the quality of new build homes, including changes to the building control inspection regime, with a defined minimum number of inspections, and the setting up of a new homes ombudsman. The new homes ombudsman must be properly resourced, have teeth and be able to react quickly to right the wrongs that it identifies. It and its compensation scheme should of course be funded by the development industry, providing an important incentive to get new homes right first time and not to compromise quality standards in the rush to increase profits. I fully support the recommendation on the basis of the struggles that my constituents have had to access redress, but I would also like to focus this morning on some of the underlying reasons why the quality of so many homes in the UK is so unacceptably poor.
The first is the structure of the land market in the UK. It allows far too much speculation, driving up land prices and artificially inflating the amount of money many developers believe that they have to make as profit before they will build a scheme. This results in a structural focus across the UK development industry on the bottom line, and therefore on cutting costs. Since staff costs for development are relatively fixed, it is the cost of materials that is pared back to the minimum. On so many housing schemes, any generosity of design that was intended in the original plans is cost engineered out by using cheaper materials, meaner proportions, or cutting corners on the build itself. This is simply not an adequate basis for a housing market that needs to deliver so much so quickly, and it is not acceptable that short-term profits are being achieved at the expense of long-term quality and the health and wellbeing of residents.
The second is the systematic reduction since 2010 of the resource and regulation underpinning the design quality of homes in the UK. The coalition Government simplified planning policy in the national planning policy framework. There was no disagreement about the need for simplification, but they went too far and one of the casualties of that process was any real emphasis on design quality in national planning policy. There are just 12 short paragraphs on design quality in the NPPF, two of which relate to advertising hoardings.
Under the previous Labour Government, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, supported by a network of regional architecture centres, advised and reviewed the quality of many planning applications and masterplans for new homes, and published a huge body of work on design quality. CABE is now an independent organisation with a much-diminished resource, and since its services are no longer funded by Government, the number of local authorities that can afford design review services and choose to take them up is much reduced. There has been no comprehensive or systematic review of the quality of design of new homes being built across the UK for more than ten years, and there is no systematic post-occupancy evaluation of the quality of new homes.
Good design is about more than just the appearance of a new home; it is also about its sustainability, energy efficiency, durability, robustness and flexibility to the changing requirements of its residents. Since 2010, the Government have removed many of the policy requirements that had previously helped to drive up the quality of design, including the zero-carbon homes programme and the lifetime homes standard, which increased the number of homes being built to a fully accessible standard for disabled people. The Government have also refused to incorporate the nationally described space standards into building control regulations, resulting in a situation where the number of homes built below the standards more than trebled from 2013 to 2016, and some homes are being built in London at just 16 square metres. The house building industry is very responsive to the policy and legislative environment that it is in and will adapt to meet new quality standards. Standards matter because many parts of the sector will only deliver the bare minimum the Government require. Leadership from the Government in this area is sadly lacking, and a clear and rapid change of approach is needed to set the standards UK residents require from their new homes.
Finally, the lack of direct Government funding for genuinely affordable social housing—a problem in itself in addressing the housing crisis—also contributes directly to the issue of poor design quality. The number of social homes built with Government funding since the start of the coalition Government in 2010 has dropped by a staggering 95%, and the Government have not increased the borrowing cap for councils. This means that the delivery of affordable housing—often not affordable at all if it is built to this Government’s definition of affordability—is increasingly dependent on cross-subsidy from private sales, which also creates an incentive to maximise the number of homes at the expense of design quality, to minimise the cost of materials and to lower the specification. The Government must now do what the Labour party has pledged to do, and restore the building of genuinely affordable social homes and a civic purpose to the building of new homes.
We face such a huge challenge in the UK to build the number of homes that we need, but at the same time the Government must ensure that those that are built are high-quality homes that are energy efficient, have generous space standards, have high-quality open space, have good storage for refuse, recycling and bicycles and are pleasant places to live that can stand the test of time and become communities of the future. Ensuring that new homes built in the UK are consistently of a high quality requires structural change in the land market and reform of the deeply flawed and unacceptable viability assessments that are used to justify cutting costs. It requires a Government commitment to fund genuinely affordable new homes, built for a social and civic purpose, to meet our desperate need for housing, rather than for profit. That commitment is currently sadly lacking. It also requires properly resourced planning departments with access to good practice in design, and a policy and regulatory framework that raises the bar, in particular on environmental sustainability and accessibility in new homes.
I join the chorus of congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on organising this important and timely debate. He nearly put me off my breakfast this morning as I woke up to his dulcet tones on Radio 4, but he made some very important points, in particular about the commitment in the Conservative party manifesto to higher-density urban housing—mews houses, mansion blocks and the like.
I join him in emphasising the importance of this matter. I thought his speech rather neatly summarised the slightly schizophrenic approach that we have in this country—it does not matter where on the political spectrum or what part of the country someone is in—to taller buildings, if I can put it that way. If high-rise living is mentioned, people automatically picture some sort of brutalist, 1960s tower block and their hackles start to rise. They get concerned about the quality and design of the build and the impact not only on the people living in that particular development, but on the surrounding public realm, which is influenced because everyone can see it from a good distance around.
But mention mansion blocks, terraced streets or mews houses, built altogether on a more human scale—four, five or six storeys tall; the sort of thing that can be seen in many long-established city centres such as London, Bath, Bristol and the prosperous Victorian cities of the midlands and the north—and people take a different approach. They are much more welcoming, because those designs have stood the test of time. My hon. Friend’s comments about ensuring local buy-in are particularly important. There may be a local vernacular style, often using local materials, but such houses can be built using modern building techniques to a high modern building standard, allowing them to deliver at the same time some of the other things mentioned by colleagues in interventions, such as greener buildings, energy efficiency and so on.
My hon. Friend is making a good point about higher density, but is it not right that green spaces must be included, if not in properties—not everyone needs a garden—then nearby? Royal Horticultural Society surveys indicate a direct link between our health and wellbeing and green space.
My hon. Friend and near neighbour in Somerset makes a tremendously important point. The advantage of building up, not out—if I may paraphrase the manifesto commitment to higher-density living—is precisely that it can preserve, and in some cases enhance, available green space. We could increase the density of existing urban centres—not necessarily city centres; they could be the centres of market towns or seaside towns such as Weston-super-Mare, which I represent—while working within existing street plans and plots.
Many of our town centres are an average of two or three storeys tall. Walking down the main streets of most towns and looking up, one can see large amounts of fresh air, which could be incredibly economically valuable if only it were developed, providing that it were developed in a modern style—not necessarily a modernist style, but with modern materials—in keeping with the local style. Many of the problems mentioned by the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), who immediately preceded me—problems to do with value engineering and the difficulty of ensuring economic value—would go away.
If there is an existing plot on which a couple of extra storeys can be put, taking it from two storeys to four or five, there is no need to trip over the problems with high-rise living that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton discussed. People will accept it. We need only walk through town centres, such as the ones near where we are standing now, to see that people will accept it. It is extraordinary to consider that Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster, where we are currently debating this issue, have some of the highest-density housing developments in the entire country, and they are hardly bywords for inner-city and urban decay. They are good examples of designs and systems of living that have stood the test of time.
I want to sing a hymn of praise to building up, not out. It attracts new investment into our existing towns and city centres, helping urban regeneration. It also reduces urban sprawl, helping to preserve green spaces by increasing the density of existing urban spaces and reducing the need to build out on the fringes, eating into green belts. As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), it also breaks the stranglehold of the established housing developers, who are often not keen on building on small plots in town centres. Small local developers and builders are much more keen to do so. That is greener. It cuts commuting times, as people can live closer to work, and allows building to be done in an energy-efficient fashion.
My query to the Minister is, how we can make the manifesto commitment—to build up, not out; to increase urban density—move much faster? He will be aware, I am sure, that I made a submission after the White Paper for permitted development to allow people to build up, not out. I hope that he will take it seriously. Will he also consider whether we can increase the level of credit that local authorities, in making their local plans, get for local development orders so that people can build up in the middle of towns? Housing inspectors, when considering whether local plans are acceptable, should give credit for extra building that might happen. They do not currently accept as part of the assessment of local housing need whether plans will provide the necessary local incentives to local communities so that people will want to build beauty in their back yards.
I commend the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on securing this debate. Before I was elected, I worked for a consultancy advising people how to build controversial buildings, from skyscrapers to new housing developments, so I know a bit about the issue.
I think we all recognise that more housing is needed, and I recognise the Create Streets agenda, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, as powerful not only in big cities such as Manchester and London but in places such as Plymouth, which I represent. However, we must ensure that the quality of the housing that we build makes it not only attractive on the outside but usable and sustainable on the inside as well. That is why we must consider not only the environmental sustainability of those homes but the fact that people might live in them for a lifetime. That is essential to building in quality of life.
I am concerned that in the push to address the real and pressing housing crisis, poor-quality housing is being built. We have heard a bit about housing bought on the open market, but I am also concerned about affordable housing built by developers and then transferred either to local councils or to housing associations. The affordable housing built in the Mount Wise development in my constituency lacks the sound insulation mentioned earlier by the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), creating negative social impacts for the people who live in those properties. Not enough sound insulation was installed when the houses were originally built, and it is difficult to retrofit it once they have been built.
A quality product does not need to be expensive; we need to ensure that that is at the heart of the housing strategy from now on. However, that is not always my experience of new builds in Plymouth. Plymouth is experiencing a housing boom, but in student accommodation. In the city centre, new student blocks are being built left, right and centre. Some of them are being retrofitted mid-build—in the light of what happened at Grenfell tower, the cladding is being removed and replaced to ensure that it is safe—but too many of those student blocks look poor-quality from the outside as well as inside. I am concerned that they are being built quickly and cheaply, with the intention that they will last for 20 years and then be knocked down again. That may look good on an accountant’s spreadsheet, but when it comes to the practicalities of it in 20 years’ time, those buildings will still be there, and will exist for another 20 years.
We must also be clear about where blocks should be built. Too many student blocks with poor-quality design inside and out are being built in the wrong place, such as the Royal Eye Infirmary development, which people going into Plymouth station can see on the right-hand side. It has been built in the wrong place. Local people objected to it and the local council rejected it, but sadly the Government planning inspector approved it in the end. That does not seem like localism in action.
There are superb examples of housing being built. To single out one example in Plymouth, the Nelson self-build project is creating 24 affordable homes in Millbay. The project is being run by veterans, the Devon community, DCH and Interserve. The homes are being built by veterans who were previously homeless. Not only are they building their own homes, which will be ready shortly; they are gaining skills that will help every veteran who has worked on the project to secure a job in the construction industry on other sites. In terms of learning from good-quality design, although that project is only 24 units and we need many more, the idea is scalable. I encourage the Minister to look at what is happening at the Nelson project and to encourage self-build by veterans, as a way of helping homeless veterans in particular to build skills and a home of their own. In our haste to build, let us ensure that we build well.
The remaining speakers have four minutes each.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I join the chorus of congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on securing this essential debate. I have been interested in the topic ever since childhood, when my father, who worked for a house building company—I declare an interest—took me to see Poundbury, the village in Dorset designed under the auspices of the Prince of Wales. It is a model village, and the whole point of it is that the houses are built to look individual, with detail and architectural merit.
I draw attention to that project because it seems to me that, as many Members will have seen in the objections of members of the public to planning applications in their constituencies, people object, broadly, on two grounds. The first is practical: how can I get to work? Will the doctor’s surgery be able to cope? Sir David, you will forgive me if I do not address that in any detail during my limited time, given the topic of this debate. The second is: will it wreck the nature of the place that I love and call home? Housing design is critical to that second aspect, but the issue is how we square the circle.
Most people’s attitudes to development are entirely reasonable. They do not want to see all the fields near them concreted over, but they understand that there is a need for housing because our young people need somewhere to live. That is the challenge we face in housing: we need to ensure that numbers are not unsustainable, but it is critical that as politicians we do not develop an obsession with the numbers. It is to that issue that I wish to address my brief comments.
I urge all members of the public and all Members, when walking down the streets of any market town—particularly those around London, but we all have examples of such towns in our constituencies—to look up. If they do, they will see all sorts of features that used to be commonplace in the days of Victorian or Georgian housing and that are still built abroad today. There is no reason why we cannot continue to create such features: Flemish brickwork, work on chimneys, crown mouldings or details, guttering that has design merit, door surrounds—there are so many possibilities.
Developers will always say that the cost implications are prohibitive, but that is simply not the case. CABE, which has already been mentioned, has produced a report that states that cost implications do not necessarily increase. Taking this approach means that a new development is not about vast amounts of numbers being put on the outside of an attractive village and fundamentally changing its nature. In my constituency, for instance, Cotswold stone and slate roofs are particularly important. Ensuring that buildings complement their area is one of the ways to get public consent for the buildings we need. Unless people are satisfied that they will be able to get to work, but that the nature of their village and their homes will not change, we will not have public consent for the housing that is required.
The planning process is particularly important. The local planning process is essential, as my constituents realise, because it is one of the ways to combat speculative development. Developers who come in, impose housing on a village that may not want it in that form, and then leave, are part of the problem. Part of the solution is to use local small builders, of which there are some superb examples in my constituency. Someone who was born locally, who works locally, whose company builds houses locally and whose children go to the local school and stay in the area long after the houses have been built and have weathered into the environment will ensure that their housing and their development complements the area instead of blighting it. That is critical, as is self-build, which has been referred to; I wholeheartedly agree with it, but given time constraints I will not go into it in detail.
My last point is about cost. Timber frame is used in many other countries, but for many years it was absolutely forbidden in this country. Happily, that taboo is starting to be lifted. Timber frame offers speed of construction, lower cost and environmental benefits—again, I have outstanding examples in my constituency—and we should look into using it a great deal more. The same is true of prefabrication, which was used after the war. It seems to have a dirty name, but it should not, because outstanding examples that have all those benefits are available.
In conclusion, the White Paper on housing, to which I made a detailed submission, was an excellent start, but I ask that it be the start of the conversation, not the end. I welcome its focus on local communities having a local say and on design quality and architectural merit. When we are building houses, we must have public support and we must not be obsessed purely with numbers. We need the infrastructure, but the built environment is crucial. We are building homes, not houses. We must always remember that we are building places, not just filling spaces in our countryside.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on securing this debate on new housing design, a very important issue in my constituency. I declare an interest as chair of the all-party group on healthy homes and buildings.
I would like to concentrate on health as well as design. The ramifications of poorly designed and constructed buildings are felt by my constituents and by constituents throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I believe it is incumbent on us to act to deliver a built environment that is healthy and safe. Everyone loves moving into a new home, whether it has been freshly built or is just new to the owner, but it is important that we live in safe and healthy homes. The all-party group was established to highlight the health and cost benefits that can be achieved by constructing our buildings and homes to the highest quality and standards.
Given that we spend 90% of our time indoors, it is important that we look at these issues clearly. Our homes should be fit for purpose and should not exacerbate or cause ill health. The costs to our health services of poorly constructed homes and buildings are monumental. Perhaps some figures will illustrate why it is important to get it right: the Building Research Establishment estimates that poor housing throughout the UK costs the health service £2.5 billion every year. Getting the homes right will address some of the issues associated with ill health and its costs. Poor insulation, poor indoor air quality, damp, and poor light quality have all been proven to cause or exacerbate a variety of health problems, including respiratory ailments, child and adolescent development problems and mental health problems. Those are the issues that failure to design homes to a safe standard leads to.
I encourage all hon. Members to read the all-party group’s green paper, “Building our Future: Laying the Foundations for Healthy Homes and Buildings”, which was recently put out to consultation. If the Minister and the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton do not yet have a copy, I will make sure that they get one. The green paper makes a number of key recommendations to ensure that our homes are built to promote good health and wellbeing.
First, leadership on health and housing issues has been disjointed, with responsibilities spread across multiple Departments. This undermines the Government’s ability to tackle the problem. We want a cross-departmental committee for health and buildings to champion change in the sector, recognising the interaction between buildings, health, education and the economy.
Secondly, we ask that the Government continue to support and expand projects such as NHS England’s “Healthy New Towns”, which promise to rethink how health and housing services are delivered, as well as building a solid evidence base for the dynamic between health and housing provision. It is quite clear that the two have to work together.
Thirdly, a recent report by the UK Green Building Council estimates that four out of five homes that will be occupied in 2050 have already been built, so it is insufficient to talk only in terms of new housing design. The retrofitting and renovation of existing homes to acceptable health standards must be a Government priority. My constituency of Strangford in Northern Ireland has a lot of small construction firms of the kind that have been referred to by other Members. They build lots of individual houses, but also do lots of development. We in Northern Ireland have invested in training and upskilling in our construction industry. That must be one of the first steps in moving forward. It is not simply about training our young people in new methods of building but about engaging, upskilling and retraining older members of the construction industry.
I am conscious that you are giving me the eye, Sir David, so I will conclude. We have had various initiatives in Northern Ireland, such as the warm home scheme, which funded insulation and part-funded new safe boiler heating systems. These schemes really made a difference to the quality of homes, but it is surprising how many homes in Northern Ireland did not have a 10-year warranty. There has been a lack of insulation, among other things, which shows that not every home has been built even to the bare minimum standard. More needs to be done, and I do not believe that it can be achieved merely through regulation. We must also look at skills training, for the safety and benefit of families throughout the UK.
I am very happy to have the opportunity to talk about a subject that I have been writing about for most of my career. I concur 100% with my hon. Friends on the issues that they covered.
I must challenge the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on his view of modern design as ugly. It is not ugly to everybody; it is a question of personal taste. We should remember that the ’60s gave us some rotten buildings, but they also gave us some amazing estates such as Trellick Tower, which is very solid, Cressingham Gardens, Golden Lane, Pepler House and of course Grenfell Tower, which amazingly is still standing despite what happened there. The structure is still there; it was very solidly built. Some of those buildings could continue for ever.
[Joan Ryan in the Chair]
It has been interesting to witness how the debate has moved from design to construction quality. I have a lot of very new builds in my patch, such as Catalyst Housing’s developments in Portobello Square. I actually have more casework from new buildings than from old buildings—collapsed ceilings, collapsed floors, you name it. It is absolutely appalling.
Poundbury, I am afraid to say, is also suffering as a result of very poor construction quality—so I have heard from people who visited it recently. So from Portobello to Poundbury we have the same problem, and it must be addressed. As I have found when trying to deal with Catalyst’s development, a lot is down to what can and cannot be done. Planning officers came and shook their heads—
I have visited Poundbury several times and have seen some good construction quality. Can the hon. Lady say who is talking about poor quality? Poor quality has not been my experience when I have visited.
An esteemed architectural journalist who has written widely about it in the press told me about it. I have not visited myself.
I am sorry to trouble the hon. Lady, but on that point will she give way again very briefly?
Yes, I will.
Is the hon. Lady aware that there are many architects among what one might call the ancien régime of the architectural establishment who, despite the fact that lots of people who live there love it and think it is great, hate Poundbury and campaign against it?
I am talking about the construction quality, not the design. If I may continue, we were talking about what we can and cannot do with the new homes ombudsman. In theory, it is a good idea, but there should be another whole level of monitoring way before we get to that stage because planning officers will shake their heads on odd points of design that may or may not have been dealt with correctly yet there is no proper enforcement in terms of quality at that level. There really should be a level at which building enforcement officers can come in before a building or a ceiling actually collapses and look at its quality. All of that is to do, of course, with local government funding, the funding formulas for how buildings are put together and the cost savings that have to be made, as we have heard recently—but that is for another day. We really must review the whole way in which design and build has diminished the quality of the buildings that are delivered.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I congratulate the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on securing this debate on an important and timely subject. I certainly always welcome the opportunity to debate housing and house building, and I will try to focus more in my remarks on social housing and affordable housing, which is something I am glad to see the Labour party doing as well, in some respects.
The most important thing about housing policy is ensuring that we have an adequate supply of safe housing, which is what the Scottish National party-led Scottish Government are doing. As the MP for Glasgow’s east end, I am particularly proud to follow in the footsteps of the late great John Wheatley, who served my constituency as the MP for Glasgow Shettleston from 1922 to 1930. On being appointed Health Minister by Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, John Wheatley introduced legislation to tackle the social housing crisis at the time. The Act famously became known as the Wheatley Housing Act and allowed the Government to provide subsidies to build public housing. As a result of Wheatley’s Act, more than 500,000 council homes had been built in the UK by 1933. Wheatley’s housing legacy lives on today, and I am delighted that Parkhead Housing Association in my constituency will, as it celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, once again host the John Wheatley lecture. I will be proud to introduce the lecture, which will be delivered by Dame Elish Angiolini QC.
I have mentioned that the debate is timely, and I touched on this matter in my intervention on the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton. Last week, the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party, Ruth Davidson, suggested that the Scottish Government should build more new towns and council houses in Scotland to ease the country’s housing shortage. I am afraid I was not alone in being taken aback by the sheer rank hypocrisy of a Conservative politician lecturing us on the need to invest more in social housing, not least because it was a Conservative Government under the stewardship of Margaret Thatcher who sold off vast swathes of social housing. Worse still, the housing stock was not replaced, which has left generation Y struggling to get into social housing and being squeezed into the hands of the private sector.
Before I move on to the substance of today’s debate, it would be remiss of me not to highlight the excellent work undertaken by the Scottish Government to build good quality affordable housing in our communities. I mentioned the mismanagement of our housing stock by the Government of the 1980s, and I am afraid that the initial delivery of devolution did not vastly improve housing under the first Labour-Lib Dem Administration. Since 2007, and under the SNP, house building has come on leaps and bounds, with more than £590 million available this funding year to increase the supply of affordable homes across Scotland, which is an increase of £18 million on the 2016-17 figure. Of that, all 32 councils will share £422 million to deliver more affordable homes in their local communities.
Due to our action, we have maintained higher build rates and lower price inflation than in England. If we had built at English rates since 2007, we would have about 20,000 fewer affordable new build homes. In 2009-10, we reintroduced council house building and, since then, we have delivered more than 7,500 council homes. Between 2003 and 2007, Labour in government delivered six—yes, six—council houses in an entire Parliament. We are investing more than £3 billion to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes over the lifetime of this Parliament—a 76% increase on our previous five-year investment. Some 35,000 homes out of the 50,000 target will be for social rent, which is a 75% increase on our previous social rented target. I mention that because a huge part of the debate today has focused on the private sector and, in my capacity as spokesperson for the third party—the SNP—I want to bring Westminster back to looking at our investment in social housing as well. We are determined to increase and accelerate housing supply across all tenures and to support the industry and local authorities in delivering their housing priorities, with quality homes in mixed communities that fit local needs. More Homes Scotland includes a new mid-market rent offer to alternative providers, which is a further option to help deliver the 50,000 target, and we have increased housing subsidies by up to £14,000 for social homes and affordable homes for rent, being delivered by councils and registered social landlords.
When preparing for today’s debate, I was pleased to come across the Scottish Housing Regulator’s 2017 national report on the Scottish social housing charter, which states:
“Average satisfaction with the quality of homes has increased for RSL tenants to 88%”.
At this juncture, I pay tribute to CCG (Scotland) Ltd, which is based in my constituency and provided the kit homes we saw built in the Dalmarnock area of Glasgow for the Commonwealth games. Some 700 homes were put together in a year or two. So while the Conservatives and Ruth Davidson sit polishing their brass necks and giving us lectures on investment in housing and building new communities, we will get on with the actual job of building communities and homes for the people of Scotland.
I want briefly to touch on housing design. I am mindful that the focus of the debate is policy, which is a devolved competence, so I seek only to introduce a different dimension, namely what we are doing north of the border. I commend to the House—and will place a copy of it in the Library—the document entitled “Places, People and Planning: A consultation of the future of the Scottish Planning System”, which the Scottish Government published in June of this year. I know that colleagues in the Scottish Parliament will today announce the programme for government and I expect there might be something in it on new planning legislation, which is welcome, and long overdue. One suggestion in that June 2017 document is that local development plans be considered over a 10-year rather than a five-year period, and that is certainly worthy of being thrown into the mix.
Another aspect I would like to introduce from a Scottish point of view is tenement stock. Whereas Aberdeen is famous for its granite buildings, my own city of Glasgow is famous for its sandstone tenements, and I am mindful that many of them are of an age at which they require a lot of attention. I very much hope, therefore, that the Government in Scotland, housing associations and local authorities factor into their plans investing in and looking after the current tenement stock as well as investing in new housing supply.
To sum up, the point made by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton about a new homes ombudsman is pertinent. Last night, before catching the sleeper train down to London, I attended a public meeting in my constituency. The hon. Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) made a point about Bellway. Too often, we see house builders come along and make promises to communities for which they are not held accountable—Broomhouse and Eastfields are just two communities in my constituency where that has happened—which is why I am keen that housing associations should be able to take through the whole process of building new developments. I am, therefore, keen to pursue the idea of a new homes ombudsman.
We have heard excellent speeches from the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller). I agree particularly with the points made by the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes). It is good to see a focus on tackling the housing crisis by way of investing in social housing and affordable housing. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) talked about people’s perceptions of homes. Before I came along to the debate, I was in the Tea Room, chatting about perceptions with some of my colleagues. If you ask kids to draw a house, they all draw a little detached building that looks like a bungalow—there is a point there.
The point about building up and not out is absolutely worth considering. As a new Member, I am looking to move into a flat in London, and as I have gone around various parts of the city I have been interested to see more developments that go up than go out, which is not necessarily the case in my constituency. The hon. Member for Witney (Robert Courts) spoke about looking up, and I encourage him to come to Glasgow because we are a city that is renowned as a place where people look up to the architecture. I pay tribute to the work of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) in the all-party parliamentary group on healthy homes and buildings.
I started by talking about the legacy of John Wheatley. I am confident that in Scotland we are working towards tackling the legacy of a lack of investment in housing, but I will finish with a word of advice for colleagues here in England. We need to look at abolishing the right to buy. I know it is not popular in this Parliament. We abolished it in Scotland, where it is bearing fruit. It is difficult to build more homes and get people into social housing when we sell off such housing. That is a conversation that colleagues need to have. Ultimately, we need to identify a new John Wheatley.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on securing this important debate. Much of what he said would create a consensus across this Chamber and, indeed, across these nations of ours. There have been creditable contributions all round and a wealth of experience from the Members who spoke. I will not run through every constituency at this stage, but serious points were made for the Minister to take on board.
No serious debate can begin without our recognising that we are in a bad place at the moment. Every Member who spoke has illustrated the fact that things are not going in the way they should be. It is important to recognise that, because we look to the Government to institutionalise significant change. Houses are not simply bricks and mortar, as Members have said. They are homes and parts of the communities in which people make their lives, and we must do better than we are doing now.
I will add some words of caution. First, it is worth recalling that almost everything that has been said, particularly about the environmental impact of homes and noise insulation and so on, applies just as much to the existing built stock. The bulk of homes that will be around in 20 years’ time are already in existence. Probably some 80% of them already exist. We have got to do something about retrofitting to improve existing homes. Even if we are to see the building boom that we await—I hope the Government’s ambitions are brought into reality—there will be some real impacts, one of which we have seen in the past: when there is a housing boom, unfortunately the quality of the build does not always keep pace with the scale.
One issue in the construction industry that the Government are not addressing is the ageing workforce and the lack of adequate training places for young and not so young people coming into the construction industry. We must deal with that if we are to have construction workers to deliver quality homes of the future and retrofit the homes of the past.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) in saying that unless we have adequate funding for our local authorities, including the funding of building control and planning, which have been cut across our nations because of the austerity budgets, we will not see the type of ongoing control that we need to guarantee that the build of the future avoids the mistakes of the past. To make an obvious point—bearing in mind the experience of Grenfell Tower—we have first class and second class housing in this country. Social tenants’ housing must be of exactly the same quality of design and build as we would expect for anybody else. So that is the background to the debate.
The Government face real challenges. On issues of design and high quality homes, clearly the Government have a central responsibility to assess standards and provide a framework. Good design is aesthetically pleasing. I agree with the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with building up, although, like everything, it is a question of whether the design is of an acceptable standard. My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington is right: let us not be so concerned with replicating the past that we fail to take advantage of what the future can offer. Amazing buildings are going up all around this country because new building technologies allow more experimental and more interesting buildings than some of those in the past.
I think the hon. Gentleman is saying we should not allow awful tragedies such as Grenfell Tower to sway us against the advantages of greater density and building a little higher, provided it is done in a sensible way and with the right standards and design.
Indeed. If I can repeat the point, we already have a building stock of homes in the sky. I am old enough to remember when we were told we were going to build vertical streets. I give away my age when I say that. People live in vertical streets. Whether built in the future or existing stock, we have to make sure they are fit and proper homes. Let us agree on that.
We have to face the challenges of new builds. I was involved when Greater Manchester was looking at the spatial framework for the future. There were a lot of objections, some inevitable. There was some nimbyism in people’s objections, but people have legitimate objections if they see that a new development is not accompanied by the kind of infrastructure investment that is fundamental to making communities work. It is not simply about the new community that is being built, but whether it is compatible with the existing community. Transport links, local schools and local medical facilities, and access to the world of work are legitimate concerns because such things make real communities work properly.
Along with local infrastructure, people need to be able to move homes as their lives change. The right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) made the point about people’s circumstances changing with age. Sometimes an ageing couple have an issue with disability. It is not impossible to adapt existing homes, but nor is it impossible to keep people within their own community where they may prefer to make a move. So it is sensible to design communities around people’s progressive needs.
An issue raised already is the question of space. The Government have a real challenge. When the former Brent Council building is now seeing homeless single persons offered 16 square metres of floor space, we have a real issue. That is way below the national space standards for housing design, which the Government introduced. I say to the Minister it is time those space standards were implemented nationally and made mandatory, because they are an acceptable minimum. In any case, there is always the capacity to use adequate design as a reason for eroding that standard, but that should be firmly lodged with the local planning authority as the guarantor of the safeguard, so we do not see developers overreaching themselves.
Often when space standards have been eroded, it is consistent with offices and retail premises being converted into homes. The Minister needs to look hard at blocking such loopholes if we are to prevent ridiculously small homes being built.
On section 106, I was bemused rather than amused to see an advert by a company called Section 106, which tells would-be developers about affordable housing. It talks about its own performance and references a development in Gloucester Place in London where an affordable housing contribution of £646,000 demanded by Westminster Council was reduced to a nil contribution. It goes on to tell would-be developers that they can go on a holiday with the money they have saved. That is simply not a responsible use of section 106; it is not what it is there to provide. The Minister must look again at making the section 106 process transparent, so there can be public tests, and enforceable by local authorities. If we are to have the homes for the future that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton is demanding—and he and other colleagues are right to demand them—our local authorities must have the capacity to say to developers that developments must be of an acceptable standard, and that they have the power to control the rogue builders and developers.
Before I call the Minister, I remind him that he may wish to leave time at the end for the mover of the motion to wind up.
Thank you, Ms Ryan. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, I think for the first time in this Parliament. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) on securing this debate on new housing design. He is a long-standing advocate of high-quality development and his passion about the subject has come through clearly today and in the media as well; indeed, all Members who have spoken today have spoken with passion about why design is important.
We all acknowledge that it is critical that we build more homes. Our housing White Paper, published earlier this year, set out how we intend to tackle that challenge. Just as important as building more homes is the need to ensure that they are of good quality, are well designed and respond positively to the local context.
Around the country, there have been some fantastic examples of good design in new house building and a number of colleagues have pointed to examples in their own constituencies. However, we can also all point to soulless developments that ultimately destroy the character of a local area. That is something we must change.
The Government have put in place a robust framework that promotes and supports high-quality design. Both the national planning policy framework and our planning guidance emphasise the importance of good design and provide advice on planning processes and tools, which local planning authorities can use to help achieve that aim. Over the months ahead, the Government will engage with the housing industry to showcase good practice and develop new policies that support that ambition, but we know we must do more.
The housing White Paper contains proposals to improve the quality and character of new development. We want to strengthen the national planning policy framework to introduce an expectation that local and neighbourhood plans in development plan documents should set out clear design expectations. That will provide greater certainty for applicants about what types of designs are acceptable in a local area.
We also want to use national planning policy to strengthen the importance of early, pre-application discussions, as a means to encourage more valued discussion of the design of new homes between communities, developers and local authorities. The Government also have a longer-term ambition to support the development of digital platforms on design.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton talked about a number of surveys. He concluded that people would support the building of homes if they are well-designed and in keeping with their local area. It is important that local authorities and developers work with communities to ensure that they get the quality of new housing development that they want. A range of tools is in place to engage the local community, both when preparing plans and at planning application stage, yet I know community engagement is far too inconsistent. Far too often local people hear about new housing schemes late in the day, after a planning application has been submitted.
There are of course good examples of where engagement works. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) talked about the Beauty-In-My-Back-Yard toolkit; there are of course others. Our housing White Paper proposals will go a step further to help make sure that local communities are not left behind.
A number of colleagues have mentioned neighbourhood planning. I see plans driven by local people with a vested interest in the quality of design for the place they live in as an incredibly valuable tool to achieve good design and local engagement. Since 2012, more than 2,200 groups have started the neighbourhood planning process in areas covering nearly 13 million people. In some areas, neighbourhood planning groups are keen to ensure that good design does happen in practice. For example, the plan for Bristol Old Market Quarter sets out design principles for the development of key sites to ensure that new buildings make a valuable contribution to the character of the neighbourhood. The Government recognise the significant effort neighbourhood planning groups make and that is why we are supporting them with funding. The housing White Paper sets out our commitment to further funding for neighbourhood planning groups in this Parliament. We are committed to providing £25 million of funding to boost the capacity and capability of local authorities for a three-year period, starting this year, which will open up opportunities to support and provide design resources to neighbourhood planning groups.
Turning to the issue of a new housing ombudsman, we have already published proposals to tackle unfair lease practices, including banning the sale of new leasehold houses, but it is the case that, according to the latest Home Builders Federation survey, 84% of new home buyers would recommend their builder to a friend. That figure has fallen steadily from 90% over the last four years, and means that 16% of new home buyers would not recommend their builder. In any other market, that would spell the end of the most poorly performing companies. I am having a set of discussions with developers; I also make the point to them about the need to improve quality and design.
Is the Minister aware of the survey conducted by Ipsos MORI for the Home Builders Federation, the trade body for the largest volume house builders? It said that 67% of buyers would prefer not to, or are unlikely to, buy the product of volume house builders.
My hon. Friend makes the point perfectly. It shows that customer satisfaction is absolutely key. House builders need to step up to the plate.
The housing White Paper sets out the Government’s plan to diversify the housing market, which will play a part in helping to improve quality. My hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) and the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) talked about custom building and the importance of small and medium-sized builders as well.
Of course mechanisms are in place for redress, such as the consumer code for home builders, which a number of colleagues have talked about. I have been encouraged by the industry’s response to last year’s report by the all-party parliamentary group for excellence in the built environment, “More homes, fewer complaints”. A working group was set up by the Home Builders Federation and has commissioned an independent report into consumer redress. We expect that to come forward in the next few weeks. I will review the report in detail and I will consider the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton for a new homes ombudsman.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) talked about the Women and Equalities Committee’s report. We expect to respond next month. Colleagues also raised the issue of space. As the hon. Members for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) and for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) will know, we have committed in the White Paper to reviewing the nationally described space standards, because of feedback from the sector.
My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) talked about building out. We will amend the national planning policy framework to address the scope for higher density housing in urban locations.
The Government will continue to work with industry, local communities, developers and all those with an interest in the quality of new homes to drive up standards and create the type of places that people want to live in. It is clear that Members and their constituents want that to happen, and I want that to happen too.
Before the Minister sits down, will he give way?
May I press the Minister on this point? He said that the Government’s intention is to review the national space standards. That is welcome, but the suspicion is that the review will reduce the standards rather than enforce them. Will part of the review be about making them obligatory across the length and breadth of the appropriate domain?
Let me be clear: we are not talking about a race to the bottom. We want new development to be well designed, but that does not mean that current space standards are sacrosanct.
I thank the Minister very much for his comments, particularly on the fact that he will consider a homeowners ombudsman. It would be a really good idea to bring that forward and I would very much welcome it.
The Minister also talked about redress for those who can get it. There are many good builders out there, but it would be good if the Government could highlight those who are not, as that would put pressure on them and make sure that people had choice.
I thank all hon. Members for their contributions—I cannot mention them all by name as I am short of time. It is interesting that when it comes to architecture, beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder, but if we can take local people with us, we have a greater chance that they will support development and we could take out a lot of the objections to further development. We need quality homes—we have talked again about the need for good insulation, good building standards, and building quality homes for the future. I believe we can do that and I very much welcome the Minister’s remarks.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered new housing design.