Peers in warning to Government over housebuilding policy


Looser planning laws aimed at increasing house building risk heaping "misery" on communities, a parliamentary committee has said.

The Government will fail to meet targets to deliver 200,000 new homes a year if it relies on the private sector, according to peers.

But speedy development is in danger of being prioritised over standards, the House of Lords committee on national policy for the built environment found.

Peers warned they were "extremely concerned" about the state of new housing and called for reforms to ensure developers are not able to "play fast and loose" with quality.

Baroness O'Cathain, chairman of the committee, said: "It is increasingly clear that we need to build more houses in England and we wholeheartedly support that objective.

"However, if we build those houses in the wrong place, to a poor standard - without the consent of local communities, we are only storing up future misery for the people in those houses and others nearby."

Planning rules were relaxed in England under the coalition and broad policies were set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Under the reforms, a "presumption in favour of sustainable development" was introduced that meant building should go ahead if plans met the NPPF.

But the changes, along with the removal of national building standards, are creating a risk that "mistakes of the past" will be repeated, according to the committee.

It calls for rules allowing building on green belt in exceptional circumstances to be clarified and suggests the "brownfield first" policy should be reintroduced.

The committee also said the Government must change financial rules to boost the ability of local authorities to build houses, warning that the private sector has rarely delivered 200,000 new homes a year in modern times.

It said aspirations for the quality of new developments have been "routinely too low" and urged the Government to appoint a chief built environment adviser to champion higher standards.

Baroness O'Cathain added: "Spending a little bit extra on good quality design at the outset can avert massive costs to people, society and government in the long-run.

"The Government should review the National Planning Policy Framework to make sure developers aren't using financial viability to play fast and loose with design quality and sustainability.

"If developers submit substandard plans local authorities should be able to ask them to think again without builders falling back on questionable viability assessments to get their way."

She said: "We hope in responding to our report they will recognise that the drive for more homes must not come at the expense of quality.

"Everyone deserves a home but they also deserve a good quality home, in a good quality place, that meets their needs as individuals and families. We don't think the Government's policy as it stands will deliver that."

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "We've got the country building again with new homes up 25% and the reformed planning system has given permission for 251,000 new homes in the year to September, higher than at the pre-recession peak in 2007.

"We have set out the biggest, boldest and most ambitious housing plan in a generation to help a million more people into homeownership, including directly getting homes built.

"Our policies ensure that all new homes are built to a high quality and local people have their say where developments should and shouldn't go."