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House of Lords Hansard
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Housing: Future Homes Standard
21 March 2019
Volume 796

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Future Homes Standard announced in the Spring Statement will include measures to ensure accessible and adaptable standards are met.

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The Government will consult later this year on our plans to introduce the future homes standard for new-build homes to be future-proofed with low-carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency. Separately, the Government are currently working on a review of accessibility standards for new homes.

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I thank the Minister for that Answer. This is so important, because only 7% of our housing stock is accessible and adaptable. Will the Government use this opportunity to ensure that developers are required to build to the more inclusive, accessible and adaptable category 2 standard?

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My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for her continued—and quite right—tenacity in this area. Document M, which relates to the accessibility standards, will be reviewed this year as part of a review of all building regulations, consequent on the Government’s policy and the Hackitt review.

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First, does the Minister agree with the Building Research Establishment that the six years it will take to introduce the future homes standard is an exceptionally long time? Can he tell us why it cannot be done sooner? Secondly, this is an extraordinary opportunity to introduce an integrated set of lifetime homes standards into a set of standards that will hold for ever. This is surely what we need for an ageing population. If our ageing population could stay in their own homes while they grow old and frail, that would help the health service and the care services enormously in terms of costs and benefits. Does the Minister agree that we must not miss this opportunity?

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My Lords, as the noble Baroness knows, document L relates to carbon standards in relation to heating and environmental standards. Document M, as she also knows, relates to accessibility. They are part of a suite of documents, and each has to be reviewed separately, consequent on Hackitt, to ensure that we get the programme right. The noble Baroness is right to say that six years is a considerable time. The target is, of course, “by 2025”, so I can offer her the reassurance that it could be achieved within that time, earlier than 2025. But we want to get it right, and it is important to have a thorough consultation.

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My Lords, my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester mentioned the category 2 standard. Building homes to that standard is currently optional, but it has been adopted in some places. That is the standard that reflects the lifetime homes standard, so does the Minister agree that it should be made compulsory?

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My Lords, I am very much in favour of the review, but I do not want to prejudge it; it is important that it be left to take its own course. Picking up a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, it is certainly important to examine the durability of the standards with a view to not only people who are disabled but people who are ageing. We have an ageing population, and the Government are very much committed to the industrial strategy grand challenge mission on ageing. That is quite a mouthful, but it means aiming for people to live five extra years in good health by 2035, so it plays into this agenda. However, I do not think that we should prejudge the consultation.

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My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Sustainable Energy Association. We greatly welcome the Chancellor’s move to require housebuilders to up their standards of energy efficiency and carbon-neutral housebuilding. The technique of using building regulations to make housebuilders do things they otherwise would not must apply also to accessible housing. Exhorting housebuilders to do the right thing and produce more accessible homes does not get us anywhere. They are doing very well as it is, thank you. We need those building regulations changed in a compulsory way, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, stated, to do the great things the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, has advocated for so long.

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My Lords, the noble Lord does much good work in this area, for which I thank him. He makes a powerful case but it is for those reasons that we had the Hackitt review, are holding a review of building regulations and will act as a consequence. Things are moving in that direction. Those are not the only things happening, of course—for example, the ECO places an obligation on energy companies so that energy bills are lower and less carbon energy is used—but they are central. Again, I speak to the importance of document M on accessible housing. The requirement to take account of the interests of people with disabilities and an ageing population is provided for in the NPPF—the planning framework—and the Neighbourhood Planning Act. It is all moving in that direction.

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My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests in the register. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that he fully supports the need for future-proofed new homes but does not think we should wait until 2025 to tackle energy efficiency and carbon reduction. In that case, can the Minister explain why the Government scrapped the zero-carbon homes plan in 2015, and in 2016, during the passage of the dreaded Housing and Planning Act, opposed the introduction of carbon compliance standards for new homes, which would have helped reduce carbon emissions and given people lower fuel bills?

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My Lords, first, it is important to note that the energy standard for new homes has improved by more than 30% since 2010, reducing energy bills by £200 per annum per household on average. That is indicative of the progress made. The noble Lord referred to previous policies; to some extent, they depended on offsetting, which did not have a direct impact. This measure will: it will look at things such as heat pumps, solar panels and the replacement of old gas boilers. That will have a direct impact, unlike the old offsetting principle. To that extent, it is very much to be welcomed.