"Fixing our broken housing market"

Government yesterday issued a white paper titled "Fixing our broken housing market". 

It outlines many areas for encouraging more housing building, with a wide variety of ideas and suggestions. It also interestingly swings towards the rental side of the market, which is a shift in emphasis from normal Conservative Party thinking of solely home ownership. It is perhaps a realisation that there are many people in the country who rent, and also discusses those that cannot currently afford to purchase a home.

We at Elmhurst welcome the white paper, as it identifies the very live issues that this generation faces. We have however picked out the parts that reflect the energy efficiency implications on people’s homes.

There are some very interesting statements made:

Building good quality homes

“1.49 An effective system of Building Regulations and building control is essential to ensuring that homes are built to good quality standards, are safe, highly energy efficient, sustainable, accessible and secure. The fundamentals of the Building Regulations system remain sound and important steps were taken in the last Parliament to rationalise housing standards.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment has since looked into the quality and workmanship of new build housing in England. The Government will keep requirements under review, to ensure that they remain fit for purpose and meet future needs. This includes looking at further opportunities for simplification and rationalisation while maintaining standards.”

As an industry we all know that standards need to be maintained, we also note that the rationalisation referred to, certainly for Part L, was to remove any new planned changes towards zero carbon (i.e. making new homes more energy efficient). Government claimed at the time that the scrapping of any ‘new’ Part L targets would ‘Get Britain Building’ again. We would hope that no more watering down of Part L is intended, which to be fair the following point then clarifies:

“1.50 Since 1990, we have seen a significant improvement in the quality of Britain’s new build homes that has helped keep bills as low as possible and cut carbon emissions. But there is more to do, particularly if we want to avoid consumers having to carry out expensive, inconvenient retrofit at a later date. We have started work on a review of the cost effectiveness of current energy performance standards, which will have due regard to our domestic fuel poverty and climate change targets. We will consult on improving requirements on new homes this Parliament if evidence suggests that there are opportunities to do so without making homes less affordable for those who want to buy their own home. More detail will be set out in the Government’s forthcoming Emissions Reduction Plan.”

We welcome that the Government acknowledge that the past Building Regulations changes have meant that new builds are more energy efficient than before. But they have effectively stopped in April 2014. It is also good that they acknowledge there is much “more to do”; but will balance this with if the price of the home goes up, they will not enforce any new standards! We think that standards can be set that are reasonable and with enough lead in time can be built; as proven in the past (with all the change since 1990s) the market will innovate and prices for products/solutions will drop. Homes will then use less energy and therefore home owners and tenants; will pay less for fuel bills.

If the only measure of whether a standard will be implemented is that if the home costs more to buy, then they will not change the targets, this in our opinion is extremely dangerous route and short sighted. We would encourage that the regulations meet longer term targets; that are not just measured on one matrix (£ cost). There are many ways to get around this, such as incentives for new purchasers, indeed just as Northern Ireland intend to have a ‘rates holiday’ for the most energy efficient homes. This way even if in the short term the price of the home goes up, the homeowner/tenant is still better off in the end. As a country we would then require less energy and therefore do not have to build yet more expensive nuclear power stations – which as everyone now knows are extraordinary complex and expensive.

Overall we welcome the white paper and we look forward to seeing the detail in the ‘Emissions Reduction Plan’, and we will comment on this not just for this parliamentary term, but for the good of all families now and in the future. As we have long campaigned for we need consistent long term views and not short term sharp practices.

The White Paper can be found here:




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